Simon Church: I’m surprised a Dons win over Celtic has taken so long to happen but maybe it can this time

Simon Church

Simon Church can’t believe it’s been two years since Aberdeen have beaten Celtic – and he’s praying they can end that run on Sunday.

Church is the last Dons player to score a winner against the Hoops when they beat them 2-1 at Pittodrie on Wednesday, February 3, 2016.

The Welsh striker had only just arrived at Pittodrie on loan from MK Dons, who were in the English Championship at the time.

Church bagged the winner on his debut after Jonny Hayes had opened the scoring with a stunning long-range strike.

Leigh Griffiths netted late on for Ronny Deila’s side, but the Reds triumphed to spark a title race two seasons ago.

Church, who joined Plymouth Argyle in the January transfer window after leaving fellow League One side Scunthorpe, is shocked the Dons haven’t had a victory against the Bhoys since his debut and he hopes the run of nine defeats in a row will come to an end on Sunday.

The 29-year-old, speaking to the Evening Express from a warm weather training camp in Marbella, said: “I do find it hard to believe Aberdeen haven’t beaten Celtic since then.

“Even though it’s two seasons since I was at the club there are a lot of good players I played with who are still at the club. The manager is a brilliant manager and the staff are great.

“So I am very surprised, especially when I consider how often teams play each other in Scotland. I hope they can win on Sunday. The manager and players know what to expect and it will just come down to the day.

“Celtic have a brilliant manager as well and good players and financially the gap is quite big. But at the end of the day it’s 11 v 11 and you never know what can happen.

“I still keep an eye on their results because I had a great time up there and got friendly with a lot of people.

“I still do like to see how they are getting on and I’m definitely hoping they can get the result.

“And if they do the momentum going into the rest of the season will be massive.”

If Derek McInnes’ side win this weekend they will close the gap on the Premiership leaders to six points.

Church, who played under Hoops boss Brendan Rodgers at Reading in 2009, believes if the Dons get the three points it will spark a title race.

He added: “Aberdeen can push Celtic, but I think the mentality the manager instils in the team is not to look that far ahead.

“It was instilled into me early that we just focus on the next game and don’t look too far ahead. That’s what you’ve got to do because it’s out of your hands if Celtic drop points or not.

“It’s up to you to pick up as many points as you can because in football you can’t predict what will happen.”

Church has fond memories of his time in the North-east.

Recalling his debut he said: “I remember it was a quick turnaround. When I heard Aberdeen wanted me to come up it was the perfect time because I knew how well they were doing.

“I knew how close they were to Celtic at the time and I felt for me on a personal level it would be brilliant.

“I got there, had a training session with the lads and then we played the game.

“It went really well and the boys put on a great performance. It started off a great time for me on a personal level at Aberdeen.

“As a player you never get a second chance at making a first impression so as a player you want to go and affect the game on your debut, whether that is scoring or playing well and helping to win.

“Luckily for me I scored the winner against Celtic at Pittodrie so it was a nice start.”

Church netted six goals in 13 appearances during his loan spell with the Dons and he is still thankful for the opportunity the Reds gave him as his good form helped him get selected for Wales’ Euro 2016 squad and he faced Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in the semi-final of the competition.

“Previous to joining Aberdeen when I left Reading (in 2013) my career had ups and downs and never really got going again,” he said.

“It was the perfect time for me because I wanted to make sure I was in that Wales squad and on the plane to France for the Euros.

“The manager phoned me up to see if Aberdeen was an opportunity I’d want to take and the thought of playing Celtic in the first game was perfect.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity because it did give me the chance to fulfill my dreams of playing in a major competition.

“If it wasn’t for Aberdeen and the opportunity they gave me I might not have been on that plane and got to experience the seven weeks – it wasn’t just the semi-final it was the whole seven weeks of it.

“It was great to be a part of and it’s memories that I’ll never forget.”

A lasting impression of Church’s time with the Dons is the support he received from the Red Army.

He said: “It wasn’t until I joined I realised what a big club it was with the way the fans were.

“I had loads of fans contacting me on social media and that was from the very start to the very end and it was brilliant.

“Even when I was walking around town with my family they would come up and be really positive.

“A lot of teams have very negative fans and they are usually not shy on letting you hear what they think of you. But Aberdeen is a very positive club and I really did enjoy my time there.”

Since Euro 2016 Church as been hampered by injuries which have stemmed from his hip.

He spent last season with Dutch Eredivisie side Roda JC Kerkrade before returning to England this term with Scunthorpe and Plymouth.

He said: “Plymouth’s a good club and the boys are doing really well.

“But I’ve kept breaking down and I’m having a battle against my body at the moment.

“I had quite serious hip surgery about 18 months ago and since then it has affected everything because everything goes through the hip.

“I’ve had a few tears and strains and the surgery on my hip was something to give me the best chance.

“At the moment I’m just trying to get fit and see where it takes me, to stay involved and get some minutes.”