Larsson the saviour on bad day for Celtic

Aberdeen 1 Celtic 1

Chris Roberts
Friday 03 January 2003 01:00

Celtic slipped three points behind the leaders Rangers with this draw at Pittodrie and will endure three weeks of frustration during the Scottish Premier League's winter break before they can try to deal with the deficit.

They did not deserve their half-time lead through Henrik Larsson's 30th goal of the season but, once in front, Celtic are usually difficult to catch. However, Russell Anderson rewarded the home side's bold endeavour with a second-half header that earned their new manager, Steve Paterson, his first point against the Old Firm since taking charge.

Aberdeen appeared to be inspired by the unfurling of their centenary flag and the lighting of red flares before kick-off as they twice went close in the first two minutes with Darren Mackie headers, from crosses by Kevin Rutkiewicz and Jamie McAllister. Then they might have had a penalty after five minutes when Kevin McNaughton went down under the clumsy challenge of Joos Valgaeren from Mackie's cross, but the referee, Mike McCurry, waved play on.

Celtic, looking off-colour, continued to live dangerously and survived another appeal for a penalty when Mackie went down again, this time under a challenge by Bobo Baldé.

Typically, Celtic finally responded by putting the ball in the back of Aberdeen's net from their first quality passing move of the game after 24 minutes. Although a linesman had ruled out Larsson's finish from Stilian Petrov's pass with an offside flag, Celtic went ahead six minutes later.

John Hartson, who like Larsson had recovered from illness to play, did well to find Chris Sutton and from his ball over the top the Swede flicked the ball over the goalkeeper, David Preece, and beat Philip McGuire to it to head home at a cost. While his team-mates celebrated, Larsson remained grounded after colliding with McGuire and he lasted only four minutes longer before being replaced by David Fernandez.

It did not look like being Aberdeen's day until the 51st minute when Anderson rose unmarked in the box to glance McAllister's corner into the corner of the net from five yards, with Magnus Hedman on the ground after coming out but failing to claim the ball.

Celtic's manager, Martin O'Neill, was not too downhearted by his side's deficit behind Rangers. He said: "It's not the end of the world – far from it. We have still taken a point and it's still in our own hands. We still have to play Rangers twice and it's still within our own grasp.

"We know that matches are always going to be difficult against them. But we are definitely looking forward to the break now."

Aberdeen: Preece; Anderson, McGuire, McAllister (Payne, 82), McNaughton, Deloumeaux, Rutkiewicz, Derek Young, Clark, Mackie, D'Jaffo (Michie, 82). Substitutes not used: Esson (gk), Mike, O'Donoghue.

Celtic: Hedman, Valgaeren, Baldé, Mjallby, McNamara, Lambert, Petrov (Smith, 77), Sutton, Thompson, Larsson (Fernandez, 34; Maloney, 88), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Gould (gk), Crainey.

Referee: M McCurry.

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