Celtic interim manager John Kennedy has “no doubt” Kristoffer Ajer will attract interest this summer after the Norway defender’s latest impressive display in the Scottish Premiership.
Odsonne Edouard’s deflected early strike gave Celtic a winning start to life after Neil Lennon as they edged out Aberdeen at home.
Ajer – previously linked with AC Milan and under contract until 2022 – helped repel intense second-half pressure.
“Kris was terrific,” said Kennedy.
“He’s a great character and a leader, that was a big performance from him today. Even when he was tired at the end, he was throwing himself in front of things or getting his head on balls.
“Kris isn’t overly thinking about his future. He’s still very young at 22 and an international player. With his profile of speed, size, technique and ability – there’s going to be interest in him.”
Aberdeen’s Ash Taylor had an effort cleared off the line as Aberdeen’s much improved performance after the break came to nothing, and Celtic’s win keeps leaders Rangers seven points from the title.
The defending champions move within 15 points of the runaway leaders, while Aberdeen remain four behind third-place Hibernian.
Lennon’s departure – which had looked inevitable for months – came in the wake of last weekend’s defeat by Ross County and left assistant Kennedy at the helm for the remainder of a dismal Celtic campaign.
With the club’s 10-in-a-row title hopes all but dashed, restoring some pride and belief were the stand-in’s first objectives. The opening goal brought confidence flooding back, but only after the hosts were almost caught cold as Taylor’s aerial prowess threatened an opener.
Niall McGinn twice planted the ball on to the big centre-back’s forehead in quick succession, but the crossbar and a brilliant flying tip-over from Scott Bain saved Celtic.
Aberdeen’s promising start was soon punctured as Celtic broke the deadlock with their first meaningful attack. Ryan Christie found Edouard on the edge of the area and the visitors’ lax marking was punished as the French striker’s shot took a ricochet off Tommie Hoban to wrongfoot goalkeeper Joe Lewis.
Ross McCrorie had a 20-yard drive easily dealt with by Bain as Aberdeen tried to respond, but they would spend the rest of the opening 45 minutes hemmed into their own half.
Celtic had hit their stride and David Turnbull danced into the box to force a near-post save from Lewis before Patryk Klimala – on his first league start since the derby defeat by Ranger in October – failed to convert a delicious first-time cross from Jonjoe Kenny.
Christie curled inches wide of the top corner as Celtic kept up the verve and tempo that was too often lacking under Lennon.
Flaws remained, though, and Aberdeen came back strongly after the break as the hosts again failed to deliver a complete performance. Set-pieces have so often been Celtic’s downfall this season and Taylor rose highest to meet a McGinn corner with a header that Klimala had to clear off the line.
Andrew Considine had an effort scrambled clear and McGinn was foiled by a timely Stephen Welsh block as the visitors built momentum but struggled for clear-cut openings.
Celtic should have made the margin of victory more comfortable in the final minutes, with Callum McGregor bending a shot wide and Edouard unable to convert after a swift counter-attack.
Man of the match – Kristoffer Ajer
What did we learn?
It wasn’t pretty, or wholly convincing, but this was a hugely important victory for Celtic to restore an element of calm after the upheaval of the past week.
They should have been further in front by half-time, and were made to sweat at times, but a clean sheet and winning start gives Kennedy something to build on.
It was a case of deja vu for Aberdeen, though, as they succumbed to a second 1-0 defeat at Celtic Park in 11 days. Derek McInnes rectified his side’s insipid performance at half-time, but a lack of cutting edge was again evident from a team who have netted one goal in eight matches.
What did they say?
Celtic interim manager John Kennedy: “We scored a good goal and had a few good chances but when you don’t get that second goal it changes the game.
“We knew Aberdeen would come after us and we didn’t respond well enough. We gave the ball away too much, but credit to the players in the way they defended the box and dealt with the pressure. They put their bodies on the line and everybody was working for the cause.”
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes: “We had two really good chances prior to Celtic’s goal and after they scored we lost a degree of confidence.
“We kept the ball better second half. I’m really pleased with the performance, but frustrated and annoyed we didn’t get something from it.
“Celtic were pinned back second half and struggling to deal with the amount of balls into the box, but we have to take responsibility for getting the ball over the line.”
Aberdeen host bottom club Hamilton Academical next Saturday (15:00 GMT), with Celtic away to Dundee United the following day (12:00).
- 14TurnbullSubstituted forSoroat 78′minutes
- 11KlimalaSubstituted forElyounoussiat 65′minutes
- 18McLennanBooked at 41minsSubstituted forKennedyat 77′minutes
- 24CampbellSubstituted forHendryat 60′minutes
- 10McGinnSubstituted forMcGeouchat 90+2′minutes
Match ends, Celtic 1, Aberdeen 0.
Second Half ends, Celtic 1, Aberdeen 0.
Substitution, Aberdeen. Dylan McGeouch replaces Niall McGinn.
Attempt blocked. Odsonne Edouard (Celtic) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Ryan Christie.
Foul by Ryan Christie (Celtic).
Lewis Ferguson (Aberdeen) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt missed. Callum McGregor (Celtic) left footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Jonjoe Kenny with a cross.
Foul by Mohamed Elyounoussi (Celtic).
Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Offside, Aberdeen. Niall McGinn tries a through ball, but Jonny Hayes is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Niall McGinn (Aberdeen) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt missed. Callum McGregor (Celtic) left footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Ryan Christie.
Ryan Christie (Celtic) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Matthew Kennedy (Aberdeen).
Attempt blocked. Callum McGregor (Celtic) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Ryan Christie.
Callum McGregor (Celtic) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Matthew Kennedy (Aberdeen).
Corner, Aberdeen. Conceded by Jonjoe Kenny.
Substitution, Celtic. Ismaila Soro replaces David Turnbull.
Substitution, Aberdeen. Matthew Kennedy replaces Connor McLennan.