McStay the master

Celtic 2 McLaughlin 40, Van Hooijdonk 59 pen Aberdeen 0 Attendance: 34,010
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The Independent Online
IF Rangers are to top the Championship bill once more, despite the gap closed by Celtic yesterday, this game will go down as some side- show. Celtic took the bouquets with a rare goal from Brian McLaughlin and a Pierre Van Hooijdonk penalty in a match decided by a thrilling contest between two relentlessly creative midfields.

Much was down to Celtic's Paul McStay, who seized the initiative from the outset. The midfielder first threaded a pass into an almighty gap between John Inglis and Gary Smith in Aberdeen's defence which Andy Walker launched himself at, scudding a boot into Michael Watt's chest in the challenge. Watt retired on a stretcher and was replaced by Theo Snelders who was then stretched by Simon Donnelly on the angle with McStay again playing the killer ball.

Aberdeen's response was swift and punchy. Billy Dodds instigated an exchange of volleyed passes on the halfway line which ended with Scott Booth dragging a shot across Gordon Marshall's goal from 18 yards. When McStay next gained possessionhe darted from deep into Aberdeen's box before pulling back for Walker to play in McLaughlin. From a wide position he looked uncertain whether to cross or shoot, and so did both, his curling centre smacking off Snelders' post and into the net.

The goal winded Aberdeen, who allowed Walker through on Snelders twice. On both occasions Walker was shamed by the goalkeeper's excellence. However, on the hour Walker received the ball in the box for a third time and this time went down under Stewart McKimmie's challenge. The verdict was a penalty which Van Hooijdonk buried low to Snelders' left.

Aberdeen withdrew both wide players in favour of Duncan Shearer and Peter Hetherston and funnelled bodies forward through the middle. Shearer hit a bicycle kick just beyond the post and Jess made Marshall teeter back to hold a free-kick. But the change in tactics was not mirrored by one of fortune.