Cast your mind back to August – Saturday 4th to be precise – and Aberdeen travelled to Celtic Park on the first day of the new season brimming with optimism. Craig Brown had cleared out much of the deadwood that had plagued the club during the Mark McGhee era and added some genuinely exciting talent to his squad.
Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes brought pace, skill and enthusiasm to compliment the vast experience of Gavin Rae, Russell Anderson, Stephen Hughes, Gary Naysmith and Scott Vernon, while exciting youngsters like Ryan Fraser, Ryan Jack and Peter Pawlett were starting to make a name for themselves.
Steered by the most experienced manager in Scottish football, things were looking bright for the Dons, and their performance in Glasgow on the opening day did nothing to dampen their optimism. While they left on the end of a 1-0 defeat, they had come within ten minutes of leaving with a point, only to be denied by an inexplicable error by goalkeeper Jamie Langfield when he fumbled a Kris Commons cross into his own net.
Aberdeen, it seemed, were geared up to launch a serious bid for second place or even, with a bit of luck, a title challenge.
Seven months later and the Dons return to Celtic Park on Saturday in a starkly different mood.
While Niall McGinn’s 17 goals have provided a rare chink of light, their season has otherwise not panned out the way that they expected it to in August. Poor home form and an inability to string a run of wins together has seen them slip to ninth place in the table, having lost 10, drawn 11 and won just nine of their games so far.
They have won back-to-back SPL matches on just one single occasion in the campaign so far, failed to score in 13 of their 30 games (including nine on home soil) and having won just once in their last ten games, seem destined to end the season in the turgid mediocrity of the bottom six rather than chasing down the slightly more glamorous target of European football.
Celtic, on the other hand, have progressed pretty much as everybody expected. Despite some sore defeats and falling attendances, Neil Lennon’s side still sit 15 points clear of their nearest rival in the SPL table and look set to clinch the title in just a few weeks time.
They have regularly been unspectacular, often frustrating, and have failed to recapture their Champions League form domestically, but they have done enough and will be rewarded for that with another SPL championship trophy.
And doing enough is what I expect them to do on Saturday.
I doubt they’ll batter Aberdeen in the way they have done in the recent past (results like 9-0 spring to mind) but they will, I should think, win the game relatively comfortably.
With odds of 1/4 on a home win, it might pay to be a bit more specific to make a bit of money in this one.
Anthony Stokes has scored against Aberdeen eight times in his Celtic career so far, 11 times if you include his spells at Hibernian and Falkirk, and has never been on the losing side against them when he has found the net.
You will get odds of 29/20 on Celtic winning 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0, and this looks good if Stokes finds the net again and Celtic go on to win.
New customers who sign up with bwin online qualify for a free £20 bet and using that to back Celtic to win 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 will return £49 if successful.
For what it’s worth, Aberdeen are as long as 35/4 to leave with three points while the draw is on offer at 4/1, but all the money on this one should be on the hosts.