Callum McGregor was the hero for Celtic as they kept the pressure on league leaders Rangers with a battling win over Aberdeen.
Impressive Jota put the home side in front before Lewis Ferguson levelled from the spot during a scrappy game at Celtic Park.
But McGregor made the difference as he blocked Jonny Hayes’ clearance at the key moment and Joe Lewis could only watch the ball sail into the net.
That saw the Hoops cut the lead at the top back to four points after they started the game trailing by seven following their rivals win over Livingston in the early game.
Jota was lively during the opening exchanges as Anthony Ralston collected the ball in the defensive third and switched the ball to the Portuguese winger. The loanee cut in, but his low cross to Kyogo was blocked by a sliding Ross McCrorie lunge.
The winger was at the heart of the action again moments later as he collected a deep pass down left flank with a clever back heel and left Jack Gurr chasing shadows. He picked out David Turnbull, but the midfielder’s well-struck effort was blocked by a last-ditch David Bates challenge.
Aberdeen couldn’t stop the quick-feet of the 22-year-old as he left both Gurr and Brown behind, and could have taken on the shot from the tight angle. However, he opted to loft the ball towards Liel Abada at the back post, but Bates stuck out a toe to clear the danger again.
It felt inevitable that Jota would be the man who gave Celtic the lead, and he wouldn’t be denied. Turnbull picked out McGregor on the left, who cut the ball back to the wide man in the box. He slotted the ball just beyond Joe Lewis and into the bottom corner.
That acted as a wake-up call for the Dons after a sluggish start to the clash, as Marley Watkins unlocked the Parkhead defence and hit the byline. His cut-back almost fell to Christian Ramirez at the back post, but Josip Juranovic was first to the ball.
Watkins was looking the liveliest for the Granite City outfit, and he almost levelled with a dipping effort from the edge of the box. It looked destined for the bottom corner, but Joe Hart tipped the ball around the post.
It was from the corner that Liel Abada gave the foul away as Bates was tripped in the box, and Kevin Clancy pointed to the spot. Ferguson cooly stepped up to send Hart the wrong way and level the game.
Turnbull looked to have picked out Kyogo in the box from the right wing, but confusion in the attacking third meant Stephen Welsh attacked the ball first and fired his header wide when it looked easier for the Japanese to find the net.
After the restart, striker Ramirez proved to be an unlikely hero at the back as a corner fell kindly to skipper McGregor on the edge of the box. The Celtic man caught the volley perfectly, but the American was on the line to keep the ball out.
Celtic were on the front foot and some good movement from Turnbull in the box teed up Juarnovic for a low drive. However, he dragged the shot wide of the near post in another let off for the Pittodrie men.
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It looked like it could have been a struggle for Celtic to break down the red wall, but fortunate favoured McGregor at a key moment. Abada was denied by Joe Lewis at close range, and as Jonny Hayes looked to clear the ball the Parkhead skipper’s block cannoned into the net.
Anthony Ralston came close to notching a third as he met Turnbull’s cross with power. He rose above Bates, but Lewis was there to get a glove to the ball and parry the ball over the bar.
McGregor unleashed Jota on the Aberdeen defence once again as his clever cut back allow the forward to get blasted a low drive across goal. It cannoned off the inside of the post and away to deny the loanee his double.
With moments ticking down, Ferguson flicked Dean Campbell’s corner towards goal but Juranovic was on the line to deny the Dons a much-needed point.
A sweeping counter attack almost allowed Kyogo to seal the victory as sub Mikey Johnston curled a cross to the back post, but Lewis’ outstretched leg denied the frontman the third of the afternoon.
3 talking points
At the top of Ange’s Christmas list
He’s become a hero at Celtic Park after a series of impressive performances, and Jota was again the stand-out against Aberdeen. He peppered the box with crosses and left defenders in his dust. Almost everything positive – including his goal – came from the attacker. With an option to purchase written into the Benfica loan deal, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see the club refusing to make the deal permanent with the 22-year-old old still having plenty of room to develop. The Parkhead fans will hope that this isn’t the Last Christmas in Glasgow’s east end for the George Michael lookalike.
Paying the penalty
It’s another big call from a referee in Scotland that managers, players and pundits will pore over as Kevin Clancy pointed to the spot at Celtic Park. David Bates went down under the challenge of Liel Abada, after the Israel cap left a leg trailing on the centre-back. The contact appeared to be minimal on the onrushing defender, but the outstretched leg gave the whistler a decision to make. It offered Aberdeen a massive lifeline after a poor start to the game. While it looked to be soft decision when slowed down on replays, Clancy only gets one look at it.
Aberdeen on the slide
It’s not getting any easier for Stephen Glass. The Dons boss must have felt fairly comfortable with the game poised at 1-1 with his outfit keeping their shape and standing firm against the pace of the Celtic front three. However, Glass would have been left dumfounded by the bizarre winner for the home side as Hayes’ clearance bounced off McGregor and into the net. It’s now three defeats in a row for Aberdeen, who are closer to bottom spot than the top six at this stage. The pressure had eased on the Pittodrie boss after a sluggish start to the season, but defeat to Livingston on Wednesday could see the side drop slide closer to the drop zone and a serious relegation scrap.