CELTIC moved top of the Scottish Premiership for the first time this season as Virgil van Dijk’s last-gasp winner sank Aberdeen.
Adam Rooney put the Dons ahead with his third league goal of the season before Stefan Johansen equalised seven minutes before the break.
The Dons were much the better side in the second half and were seemingly on the road to victory when Hoops skipper Scott Brown was sent off late on.
But van Dijk had other ideas, guiding home Johansen’s corner from close range with a minute of normal time remaining.
The centre-back was dismissed himself on Celtic’s last trip to the Granite City in February – their only league defeat last season.
But his third goal of the season sparked wild scenes of celebration among the 2,000 travelling fans who contributed to the biggest attendance at Pittodrie so far this term.
Following Inverness’s 4-2 win over Hamilton and Dundee United’s 1-0 defeat at Motherwell earlier in the weekend, Ronny Deila’s side now lead the way on goal difference after earning their fourth straight league win.
The Dons had won seven of their nine previous games since losing at Parkhead in September and could have moved above the champions if they were to record a fourth successive victory of their own.
But Derek McInnes’s side will be crestfallen with the result harsh on the Dons who suffered their first home defeat since the opening day.
Shay Logan, who was sent off after the final whistle for foul and abusive language towards a linesman in the tunnel, was named in an unchanged Aberdeen side from Monday’s 1-0 win at bottom-club Ross County.
Celtic’s on-loan Aston Villa winger Aleksandar Tonev did not travel, however, despite being cleared to play by the Scottish FA as the club lodged an appeal against the Bulgarian’s seven-game ban for racially abusing the Dons defender two months ago.
There was an extra edge to proceedings, as a result, with home fans chanting their support for Logan prior to kick-off before a minute’s silence on Remembrance Sunday was impeccably observed.
It was as quiet as it got around Pittodrie all afternoon as an electric atmosphere was generated – and the Dons faithful were screaming for a penalty inside three minutes.
Peter Pawlett accelerated into the penalty area and went down under the challenge of Brown but referee Alan Muir pointed only for a goal kick.
The Dons were dealt a blow when, after just 10 minutes, Willo Flood tweaked a hamstring and had to be withdrawn as Barry Robson – another former Celtic midfielder, who turned 36 this week – entered the fray.
Celtic had made five changes of their own from Thursday’s Europa League draw against Astra in Romania with October’s Premiership player of the month John Guidetti returning after ineligibility and James Forrest made his first start since August after injury.
Anthony Stokes was fit again after a knock, Adam Matthews was preferred to Mikael Lustig at right-back and Lukasz Zaluska started in goal with Craig Gordon having sustaining a neck problem.
Despite enjoying plenty of possession, the Hoops struggled to assert any authority during the opening exchanges but created the first opening when Stokes guided a low sidefooter narrowly wide from Johansen’s lay-off inside the box.
The Dons, though, proved more than a match for the champions and it was they who made the breakthrough on 27 minutes.
Andrew Considine, after his initial throw-in was cleared, saw his shot spilled back into the danger zone by Zaluska and Rooney reacted quickest to bundle home his first league goal in six games via a deflection off van Dijk.
As Celtic upped the tempo in search of an equaliser, the Dutch defender was denied by Dons keeper Scott Brown with a header from Forrest’s corner.
The Dons still carried plenty of threat going forward, Ryan Jack slicing a 25-yard shot beyond the right-hand post when space opened up.
But the hosts were pegged back when Stokes released Johansen, who engineered a yard away from Mark Reynolds before clipping an expert finish into the far corner.
It was the first goal Brown, making his fifth Aberdeen appearance, has conceded since taking the gloves from Jamie Langfield.
The former Cheltenham stopper then had to parry a fizzing long-range effort from Johansen, the Norwegian taking it up himself to get among the goals of late from an advanced midfield position.
Forrest, who scored twice at Pittodrie last season, and former Celtic forward Niall McGinn both saw searching efforts fly over as an even first period drew to a close.
Hoops midfielder Brown was thwarted by his namesake with a 20-yard effort and the in-form John Guidetti nodded a Stokes free-kick wide in a strong second-half start from Celtic.
McGinn, without a goal in nine games, almost conjured a piece of much-needed magic for Aberdeen but his shot drifted beyond Zaluska’s goal.
Deila turned to Callum McGregor on the hour mark in place of Forrest as his side looked to turn their dominance in possession into a lead.
But the Dons had reason to be encouraged with McGinn inches away from finding the target, the Northern Irishman drilling another effort against the post after cutting inside of Adam Matthews.
McInnes introduced David Goodwillie in a straight swap with Rooney in attack at a point when the contest reached its feistiest point.
Jonny Hayes and Emilio Izaguirre were cautioned for squaring up to one another in a touchline tussle before Brown went into the notebook for an overzealous foul on Robson, who was also booked for a series of offences.
McGinn was the most likeliest to provide the decisive moment for the Dons, wasting another chance when he headed Ash Taylor’s centre over unopposed from 12 yards.
The hosts continued to have a foothold in what turned into a scrappy affair as Jack’s header was parried by Zaluska from McGinn’s delivery to the back post.
And their belief increased as, nine minutes from time, Celtic’s Brown was shown a second yellow card when adjudged to have brought down McGinn despite replays confirming there was no contact.
The buoyant home crowd urged their side forward as the Dons sought to make their numerical advantage count in the closing stages.
A Reynolds shot sparked panic in the Celtic box before Johansen blocked Jack’s effort following a long Considine throw-in.
But, in an unexpected twist to the tale, van Dijk was left all alone to stylishly guide Johansen’s corner into the net with his instep in the dying moments of regulation time.
The Dons roared back immediately with McGinn calling Zaluska into action with a 12-yard effort from a Hayes centre.
But they could not salvage anything as Celtic showed the hallmark of champions to produce a smash-and-grab raid which prompted an outcry of passion from a delighted Deila.
Aberdeen (4-2-3-1): 20 Brown, 2 Logan, 6 Reynolds, 5 Taylor, 3 Considine, 22 Jack, 8 Flood (Robson 10’), 11 Hayes, 16 Pawlett (Monakana 85’), 10 McGinn, 9 Rooney (Goodwillie 67’).
Subs not used: 1 Langfield (GK), 46 McKenna, 25 Shankland, 14 Smith.
Booked: Hayes (65), Robson (70)
Goals: Rooney (27)
Celtic (4-3-3): 24 Zaluska, 2 Matthews (Lustig 78’), 5 van Dijk, 27 Denayer, 3 Izaguirre, 8 Brown ©, 25 Johansen, 21 Mulgrew, 49 Forrest (McGregor 61’), 9 Guidetti, 10 Stokes (Griffiths 71’).
Subs not used: 38 Fasan (GK), 32 Wakaso, 33 Beram Kayal, 12 Scepovic.
Booked: Stokes (59), Izaguirre (65), Brown (67)
Sent off: Brown (81)
Goals: Johansen (38)
Referee: Alan Muir (Scotland) – 8/10