Aberdeen’s nightmare run against Celtic continues with a 10th successive defeat that killed any slim hopes of a title push.
This was a chance to slash the gap on the league leaders to six points but the Reds failed to take it – again.
Now it is a 12-point chasm and to compound matters the Reds have also lost valuable ground in the race for second after two straight defeats.
On Celtic’s previous visit to Pittodrie, the Dons didn’t lay a glove on them in a 3-0 loss.
This time they harried the Hoops, created chances and could have taken something.
But regardless of the endeavour the ultimate outcome remained the same.
At this late stage in the season it is results, not performances, that count.
And the bottom line is that the inability to take anything from Celtic in 10 encounters is concerning.
It is highly unlikely any silverware will be secured without overcoming the nation’s top side at some stage.
The Dons spent much of this campaign batting off questions about a possible Premiership title challenge.
They won’t be asked those questions again this term.
Now it is all about the scrap for runners-up spot with Rangers holding a three-point advantage.
Pittodrie boss Derek McInnes claimed Celtic raised their game against Aberdeen as it is an opportunity to “slap down” a team they view as their closest rivals.
Those slap-downs are now into double digits.
There will be further frustration with the sense this was a Celtic team there for the taking.
Tired after a trip to Russia where they were knocked out of the Europa League three days earlier, the Hoops were also injury-hit and had taken just one point from the last two Premiership games.
A vulnerability had crept in and they were not firing on all cylinders. Aberdeen came close to punishing that but the chances could not be converted.
Yet Aberdeen’s dire record against Celtic continued and that return was reflected with the empty seats at Pittodrie.
The attendance was just 17,206 for a showdown that would normally be a sell-out.
Aberdeen went with Anthony O’Connor and Manchester City’s on-loan Chidi Nwakali in the defensive midfield two.
That midfield was without suspended skipper Graeme Shinnie with on-loan Ryan Christie also out due to the terms of his contract.
The Reds came close to grabbing the lead in the sixth minute when a free-kick was awarded for a foul by Jozo Simunovic on May. From the right, McLean curled in a superb delivery along the face of goal and Kari Arnason, only two yards out, just needed to touch it to net at the back post but it flew wide.
In the 14th minute, the Reds again threatened when a long throw-in from Arnason on the right was deflected towards O’Connor just a few yards from goal but he couldn’t make the proper contact.
Celtic should have taken the lead in the 19th minute when Scott Sinclair burst down the left and found Moussa Dembele with a measured pass.
The striker lost the momentum but the ball then fell to Tom Rogic whose drive was blocked by keeper Freddie Woodman.
On the half-hour mark Niall McGinn delivered a corner from the left that O’Connor met at the near post but his glancing eight-yard header was straight at keeper Dorus de Vries.
The woodwork denied Celtic in the 35th minute when Olivier Ntcham’s drive crashed off a post.
It was both an ominous sign and a brief let-off as Celtic went ahead in the 37th minute.
In-form James Forrest got past Andy Considine on the left and dinked a dangerous cross to the back post.
Having lost marker Arnason, striker DEMBELE charged in at the back post to power home a header.
Early in the second half, Scott McKenna connected with a Mackay-Steven corner but his 18-yard header went over.
Aberdeen should have equalised on the hour mark when Kristoffer Ajer and Mikael Lustig collided. The loose ball fell to O’Connor who passed it left to Mackay-Steven.
The winger raced in on goal with the defence struggling and rather than taking on a shot he opted to slide a pass to the onrushing May but he failed to connect. It was a missed chance.
Aberdeen had three efforts all denied within a few seconds in a penalty box scramble as first, a shot from McLean, was charged down by De Vries.
The loose ball fell to McGinn but his effort was blocked on the line before O’Connor pushed the rebound wide.
The game was becoming increasingly frantic and Lustig had been walking a tightrope since being booked in the first half.
In the 75th minute, Lustig was sent off for a second yellow for a wild challenge on Mackay-Steven.
Celtic increased the lead in the 83rd minute with a lethal counter-attack when a Dons free-kick broke down.
Frenchman Dembele broke upfield and unleashed a superbly weighted pass to find Kieran TIERNEY.
The full-back lashed a vicious drive beyond keeper Woodman to complete a superb counter-attack.
It got even worse for Aberdeen when substitute Sam Cosgrove received a straight red for a wild lunge at Scott Brown. The January transfer window signing from Carlisle had been on the pitch for only eight minutes.
Aberdeen continued to try to force something but the hard fact is that they have lost all six games to the Old Firm this season.
ABERDEEN: Woodman, Logan, Considine, O’Connor, McLean, Mackay-Steven, Arnason, McGinn, McKenna, Nwakali, May.
Subs: Cosgrove (for May 76), Rooney (for Nwakali 82), Maynard (for Arnason 90)
Subs not used: Rogers, Reynolds, Wright, Ball.
CELTIC: De Vries, Lustig, Simunovic, Ajer, Tierney, Forrest, Brown, Ntcham, Rogic, Sinclair, Dembele.
Subs: McGregor (for Rogic 72), Hendry (Forrest 78), Edouard (for Sinclair 81).
Subs not used: Bain, Miller, Kouassi, Musonda.
Referee: Bobby Madden