Aberdeen 2 Celtic 2
Battling Aberdeen came back from two goals down to grab a point against Celtic in their Bank of Scotland Premier League clash at Pittodrie.
A John Hartson header after five minutes gave the Hoops the lead and when Shaun Maloney notched just after the hour mark it looked like turning into a stroll for the champions.
However, two goals in two minutes by Dons substitute John Stewart, who had replaced Danny Griffin at the interval, transformed the complexion of the match and gave the home fans some encouragement for next season.
It was a dramatic end to a game that never promised much earlier in proceedings.
But despite the relative apathy surrounding this final game of the season the home side had a point to prove.
The Dons had not beaten Celtic at Pittodrie since December 2001 when Robbie Winters and Darren Mackie scored in a 2-0 win.
Only Mackie and keeper Ryan Eson had survived the intervening years but when the champions took the lead after only five minutes, it did little to indicate Aberdeen’s fortunes would change.
Celtic midfielder Alan Thompson’s free-kick from wide on the left was cleared to the edge of the box where Aiden McGeady eventually snapped back a powerful drive which beat Esson only to rebound off the crossbar.
Perfectly placed was Hartson, who had the easiest tasks of nodding into the net from just 10 yards out for his 20th goal of the season.
There appeared to be some encouragement for the home side going forward and in the 15th minute Mackie skilfully turned Hoops defender Stephen McManus at the edge of the Celtic penalty area but dragged his right-footed shot wide of the far post.
In the 34th minute, amidst a slight drop in tempo, Dons defender Andrew Considine just failed to connect properly with a Barry Nicholson free-kick from the left which evaded the Parkhead defence on its way to the back post.
Aberdeen were being allowed plenty of room in front of the Hoops’ rearguard but invariably the final ball was lacking in quality.
In the 40th minute however, Nicholson’s clever pass set up Stevie Crawford with a golden chance but the former Dunfermline and Hibernian striker’s shot from 16 yards was well saved by Celtic keeper David Marshall.
Stewart replaced Griffin at the interval as the home side went with three attackers in search of the equaliser.
But a decent block by Considine on Hartson in the 55th minute prevented the Welshman from finding the target with his angled volley from 16 yards.
Aberdeen were gradually cranking up their enthusiasm and moments later, following Nicholson’s short free-kick, a 25-yard drive from Gary Dempsey was goal-bound until it struck his own player, Richie Byrne, and deflected away.
Then in the 61st minute, just seconds after Mackie had failed to control a great Kyle Macaulay pass inside the Celtic penalty area, the visitors ran up the park and doubled their lead.
With the Dons defence all over the place, McManus’s long ball was picked up by Maloney and the Aberdeen-born player jinked onto his right foot before arrowing a low drive from the edge of the box past Esson for his 16th of the campaign.
It was an impressive piece of finishing from the man voted by his peers as player-of the year and young player of the year.
Aberdeen pulled a goal back when substitute Chris McGuire, on for Crawford, sent Stewart clear of the Hoops defence and the Dons player confidently rounded Marshall before slotting the ball away.
It looked more like a consolation goal than anything else there was real drama just two minutes later when the home side drew level.
Mackie’s low cross from the right was missed by everyone before arriving at Stewart who slammed the ball gleefully into the net from close-range.
The rejuvenated Dons went looking for the winner but the champions should have regained the lead in the 85th when Stephen Pearson was through with only Esson to beat but the Dons keeper pulled off a fine save, diving to his right to save the midfielder’s right-footed drive from 14 yards.
In the end the home side were glad of the point to send them into the summer on a positive note.