LEIGH Griffiths came off the bench to score a late and deserved equaliser for Celtic against Aberdeen last night and deny their hosts a hard-fought win and, for the time being at least, a place in Europe next season.

Stephen Glass’s side had appeared to be heading for their first triumph over their opponents since way back in May 2018 in their manager’s second game in charge thanks to a first-half Lewis Ferguson strike.

However, Griffiths, who came on for Odsonne Edouard with half an hour remaining, got on the end of a Mohamed Elyounoussi cross with just five seconds of added-on time left on the clock.  

It may not be enough to secure him a place in the Scotland squad for the Euro 2020 finals this summer. He will have to pitch in with a few more to receive a recall from national manager Steve Clarke. It could be too late if he does.

However, his goal last night, his first in nearly three months, was warmly welcomed by his manager John Kennedy and his team mates. 

The Parkhead club have been punished for their inability to defend corners and free-kicks frequently during the 2020/21 campaign and the costly flaw resurfaced last night.

Kennedy’s charges had been looking to bounce back from their painful Scottish Cup last 16 defeat to Rangers at Ibrox on Sunday – a loss that meant they will finish a campaign trophyless for the first time since way back in 2010.

There was no shortage of desire or endeavour from the away side during the course of the 90 minutes. They had numerous opportunities to get back on level terms and even triumph. But they were unable to convert them. Until, that is, the very death.

Much was made in the build-up to the encounter about Scott Brown, the Celtic captain who will join Aberdeen in the summer, taking on his future employers. But the veteran midfielder was overshadowed by Ferguson for much of the evening.

His young opponent netted the opener, tested keeper Scott Bain several times and also dropped deep and kept his team on level terms. On the evidence supplied last night, Brown could struggled to get a place in the starting line-up when he moves.

At one stage in the second-half Brown slid in to intercept a Callum Hendry pass and only succeeded in diverting it into Ferguson’s path. The former Hamilton player was then denied by the upright. 

The Celtic goalkeeper has frequently been at fault as the quadruple treble winners have been held to draws and crashed to defeats this season. But Bain prevented them from falling behind early on with a fine save.

None of his defenders closed down Ross McCrorie in the third minute and the Rangers loanee was allowed to float a cross in to Ferguson. The midfielder met the delivery with a header that was destined for the top left corner until Bain got a hand to it. It wouldn’t be the last occasion he came to the visitors’ rescue.

McCrorie suffered an injury in the ninth minute with a foul on Edouard just outside his penalty area. He received medical attention and played on. But he would eventually limp off and be replaced by youngster Calvin Ramsay. The Scotland Under-21 internationalist’s exit was a blow for the hosts.

But Gary Woods, the experienced Oldham Athletic loanee who was making his first start for Aberdeen in the absence of the injured Joe Lewis, did well to palm a dipping David Turnbull free-kick clear and Aberdeen continued to threaten.  

They forged in front at a Niall McGinn corner in the 18th minute. Andrew Considine outjumped Stephen Welsh and headed the ball down to Ferguson who turned it into the net from a few yards out.

Aberdeen could have gone two, possible even three, ahead had it not been for Bain. The former Pittodrie youth player denied Ferguson twice, first after the scorer had got on the end of a Jonny Hayes through ball and then when he pounced on a Nir Bitton clearance.

Celtic, though, had numerous opportunities to equalise as well. Edouard was prevented from levelling twice by Woods. Ryan Christie also had a glancing header nodded off the line by Ferguson at a Turnbull corner. For a game with so little at stake, it was packed with incident and goalmouth action.

Turnbull should have restored parity seven minutes into the second-half when Edouard rose and nodded a Jonjoe Kenny cross down to him. However, the playmaker’s attempt shaved the top of the crossbar.   

Kennedy threw on Tom Rogic for Christie and Leigh Griffiths for Edouard after an hour had elapsed. Turnbull went agonisingly close to netting from an acute angle. But the home team could easily have sewed up all three points as well.

Bitton diverted a Hayes square ball out for corner with Florian Kamberi poised to turn it in and Hayes was unfortunate to lose control after a breakaway run upfield just as he was poised to shoot.

Turnbull was shown a yellow card by Willie Collum for kicking out at Dylan McGeouch off the ball in frustration in the closing stages. He should really have seen red. Aberdeen were left seeing red at the death when Griffiths pounced.  

They are now nine points clear of fifth-placed Livingston in the Premiership table with three matches remaining and have a superior goal difference. It is unlikely they will miss out on the Europa Conference League qualifying rounds. But not clinching their spot against their bitter rivals hurt.