A day that began with confirmation that the Parkhead club were including absent season-ticket holders in their declared attendances ended with Craig Brown ruing the influence of those fans who did actually make their way to the ground.
Little wonder the Aberdeen manager was scunnered. That his side eked out a 3-1 advantage in the east end of Glasgow despite conceding within 13 seconds was remarkable enough; that they then lost that lead in the final 22 minutes of this curious contest was similarly striking. Brown, in attempting to explain the capitulation, spoke of the "tremendous bombardment, both from the players and the crowd" that caused his side to concede from three set pieces, and it was easy to sympathise with his summation.
A flat, uninspiring atmosphere changed when Josh Magennis flicked in Aberdeen's third after an hour. It was as if the crowd needed adversity to rouse them.
Once the initial grumbling and clacking of seats abated – scores of supporters having decided to join the absentees – a low rumble of encouragement took hold, growing as the deficit was first reduced, then cancelled out, before being overcome when Georgios Samaras acrobatically flicked in the stoppage-time winner. By then, the supporters and players were in concert, with even the phlegmatic Greek ripping off his shirt in celebration. "It's the best way to win in terms of the feeling it gives you," said defender Mikael Lustig. "It was really fun in the end."
But what about the start? Celtic were ahead before an Aberdeen player had touched the ball, their appetite to avenge consecutive Clydesdale Bank Premier League defeats exhibited during a ferocious opening few minutes. Yet the league leaders soon settled into a sloppy performance; their passing was awry, movement lackadaisical and tempo pedestrian. They did enough, but little more, and were eventually punished by Aberdeen's adroit counterattacking.
"To be behind 3-1 is embarrassing," Lustig said. "We shouldn't be losing three goals at Celtic Park; we know that. In the league we have struggled a bit but we were in a tough position and we showed really good character. We have seven games left in the league now, plus the Scottish Cup, and we want to show our fans that we are a really good team and have the hunger."
Certain members of the squad might want to prove as much to their manager, too. Neil Lennon was, again, at something of a loss to rationalise the apparent lack of stimulation, speaking of cheap concessions, some players "not playing to the levels they can" and others being "a little off colour". He could, however, derive some satisfaction in the "commitment and desire" they demonstrated to not only haul themselves back in to the game but earn a first victory in three league outings.
Lennon posited that the international break and a "change of scenery" may refresh those members of his squad who are toiling, but for Aberdeen it will be a time to fulminate over the manner in which they threw away not only the points, but perhaps also their hopes of securing a place in the top six.
For 34 minutes, Brown's side were poised to earn a win that would have moved them up to sixth place, despite a dispiriting couple of months during which they had won just once in 10 games. Doughty defensively and combative in midfield for the most part, they offered the sort of threat in attack expected of a team who had scored just three times in their previous nine matches. Magennis was a handful at the apex of an attacking formation, using his pace and strength to discomfit Kelvin Wilson and Efe Ambrose, but was insufficiently aided by Scott Vernon, Jonny Hayes and a lacklustre Niall McGinn. Still, despite the scarcity of their sorties forward, they still managed to breach Fraser Forster's goal on three occasions.
The problem was at the other end. Brown, as well as delivering his usual refrain regarding misfortune, injuries and Aberdeen's travelling support, admitted that he erred by not bolstering his defence for the final stages, explaining he pondered introducing striker Rory Fallon to add his presence in the penalty box but was fearful of giving the impression that he did not trust his defenders to deal with the threat.
Captain Russell Anderson, though, accepted responsibility on behalf of the players. "You can't concede goals like we did and expect to win," said the centre-back, who gave away the free kick that led to the winner. "We should have seen the game out. We were on the ropes for a bit but we should have had more about us to see it out. I don't think you can fault the commitment and effort but this season, for one reason or another, has been a bit of an anticlimax. We've not been meeting the expectations we had ourselves. I honestly feel there is more there than the league table shows."
The opposite could be said about the crowd at Celtic Park, but in the end it didn't matter.
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