Aberdeen 0 Celtic 2
A Kris Commons penalty set Celtic on their way to a happy journey to Kazakhstan as Jamie Langfield’s red card sparked the end of Aberdeen’s perfect start to the season.
Commons converted on the stroke of half-time after the goalkeeper had been shown a straight red card for bringing down Georgios Samaras.
The incident turned a finely-poised Scottish Premiership contest in Celtic’s favour although they had to wait until the 87th minute to put the game beyond the 10 men when James Forrest broke clear to net.
The three points at a Pittodrie packed with fans and early-season optimism gave Celtic manager Neil Lennon the boost he wanted hours before their flight from Aberdeen Airport to the former Soviet state ahead of their Champions League qualifier against Shakhter Karagandy on Tuesday.
Celtic, who were still without Derk Boerrigter and started with pre-match fitness doubt Forrest on the bench, lacked natural width in their team and initially struggled to break Aberdeen down.
But with half-time approaching, the key moment came when Charlie Mulgrew cut open the home defence with a ball over the top. Samaras held off Russell Anderson and went round Langfield, who brought the Celtic player down with his hand eight yards out.
Referee Calum Murray pointed to the spot and showed the red card before Commons rifled his spot-kick just under the dive of substitute goalkeeper Nicky Weaver.
Mulgrew had initially started beside debutant Steven Mouyokolo in central defence before being moved into midfield to allow Efe Ambrose to drop back.
With Anthony Stokes and Amido Balde failing to overcome knocks, Samaras adopted an inside-left position with Commons given a more central role and Scott Brown playing further forward than usual.
Unlike Celtic, Aberdeen had wide men in abundance with Niall McGinn, Peter Pawlett and Jonny Hayes utilised behind frontman Calvin Zola and they made a lively start in front of a 20,017 crowd, many of whom had been tempted in by convincing victories over Kilmarnock and Motherwell.
Hayes and McGinn both wasted chances to send in dangerous crosses after beating their man but the former put in a better delivery which just evaded Zola and Pawlett. Mouyokolo, whose Wolves career was ruined by injury, was looking naturally rusty but Celtic gradually got a better grip on possession and they created their first chance just before the half-hour mark when Langfield parried Joe Ledley’s attempt to guide the ball into the far corner after a one-two with Brown.
The champions found some joy down the sides via their full-backs with Commons hooking Adam Matthews’ cross across the face of goal just out of reach of Brown before the former Derby player volleyed wide from Emilio Izaguirre’s return ball.
And the breakthrough came after Mulgrew lofted the ball over the top to catch out a square Dons back four.
Celtic created the first chance of the second half when Samaras volleyed over after a Commons corner but they needed Fraser Forster’s reflexes to be at their best in when a Hayes cross found McGinn eight yards out with the England squad player beating away the forward’s header.
That would prove the only real second-half chance for the Dons as Celtic created a steady stream of chances without being in total control.
Mulgrew curled just wide from 25 yards after and Commons sold Anderson a dummy on the right wing before cutting back for Brown to scuff wide.
Weaver then blocked Ledley’s shot after the midfielder linked up with Samaras and saved substitute Mikael Lustig’s flick following a Mulgrew free-kick.
Lennon brought on Virgil van Dijk for his debut and the Dutchman did just enough to stop McGinn converting Aberdeen substitute Gregg Wylde’s low cross.
Another substitute proved just as important. With Aberdeen pushing men up, Forrest ran on to Ledley’s first-time pass and saw his shot loop off Mark Reynolds and over Weaver’s head from a tight angle.