Maloney puts down mark for future

Aberdeen 0 Celtic 1
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Shaun Maloney came back to haunt Aberdeen yesterday as the teenager scored the goal that denied his home-town club third place in the Scottish Premier League.

If you believe the tabloids, the side that finishes behind Celtic and Rangers in the table would benefit from the Old Firm's supposed departure for the Nationwide League by carrying Scotland's flag into the Champions' League.

The look on Ebbe Skovdahl's face afterwards suggested he placed little faith in the claims that the Glasgow clubs would not still be in the SPL next season. His managerial counterpart, Martin O'Neill, made do with a firm "no comment" when asked about that scenario.

The Celtic manager, though, was happy to wax lyrical about Maloney, who was discovered on an Aberdeen public park yet with 10 goals from a smattering of appearances this term suggests he can play on bigger stages.

"Shaun has been remarkable," said O'Neill, when he reflected on Maloney's stunning 71st-minute free-kick that decided this contest. "Next season he will be pushing Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton and John Hartson for a place."

That trio were all absent as O'Neill made nine changes from the side that lost to Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final last Saturday.

However, the replacements were more than capable of providing a threat. It took a superb save from Ryan Esson to deny Mohamed Sylla's first-half header, before the Aberdeen keeper kept his side alive when Sylla burst clear early in the second half.

However, Esson could do nothing about Maloney, who curled a free kick from 30 yards which dipped just under the crossbar.

Aberdeen can at least content themselves with the fact that they will be in Europe next season, despite slipping to fourth. They had already qualified for the Uefa Cup and Skovdahl said: "This game does not take away from what has been a great season and we have achieved something tangible."

Goal: Maloney (71) 0-1

Aberdeen (4-4-2): Esson; Anderson, Whyte, McGuire, McAllister (Rutkiewicz, 65); Derek Young (Tiernan, 77), Bisconti (Clark, 81), Darren Young, Thornley; Mike, Mackie. Substitutes not used: Peat (gk), Michie.

Celtic (3-5-2): Douglas; Boyd, Wieghorst, Baldé; Smith, McNamara, Healy, Petrov, Guppy; Maloney, Sylla. Substitutes not used: Gould (gk), McGovern, Fotheringham, Wallace, Kennedy.

Referee: S Dougal.

Bookings: Aberdeen: Anderson, Thornley. Celtic: Sylla, Petrov.

Man of the match: Maloney.

Attendance: 15,332.