WHAT was, for the most part, another cheerless and frustrating evening in the cup against lower league opposition ended with joy for Aberdeen last night at Pittodrie.
Aet, Aberdeen won 6-5 on penalties
Referee: S O’Reilly
With even their own supporters fearing the worst, there was a twist in the tale – the home side won through against Alloa 6-5 on penalties, warding off what had become the very realistic possibility of yet another cup setback.
The hosts ended the 90 minutes clinging on to a 0-0 scoreline against Alloa, and did little to deserve victory in the 30 minutes of extra-time that followed. However, Mark Reynolds managed to ease Aberdeen’s embarrassment by scoring the decisive penalty in sudden death after both sides had successfully converted their first five kicks. Right back Michael Doyle missed for the visitors, who deserve enormous credit nevertheless.
Howls greeted the final whistle and the disgruntled home supporters were still registering their unhappiness as the tie entered extra-time. Make no mistake, Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes narrowly avoided what has become a rite of passage for those occupying the Pittodrie hotseat.
The visitors were everything that you thought they would be: obdurate, well organised and careful in possession on a lush Pittodrie pitch moistened by the sudden change in weather conditions.
Bright, warm August sunshine gave way to mist and drizzle in the run-up to kick-off.
The Aberdeen fans desperately hoped that their side’s cup prospects wouldn’t also grow dimmer on a night that contained plenty of scope for trauma. It was possible to discern the sense of trepidation in the air in the home stands. Indeed, it grew stronger throughout as former Aberdeen player Paul Hartley’s game-plan was impressively employed by his part-time players.
As ever on such nights, Alloa’s first aim was to prevent the hosts gaining an early foothold in the tie. This was achieved with a resolute defensive performance that saw the team heads in at the interval at 0-0. Shortly after the start of the second-half, misplaced Aberdeen passes were greeted with howls from the home supporters.
Objective No 2 had been achieved: ensure that the fans begin to turn on their own team, further hampering their prospects. It was beginning to turn into one of those nights at Pittodrie.
Water sprayed up when the players slid along the turf after committing themselves to full-blooded tackles – as expected on an evening such as this, where a team of underdogs strained every sinew, there were plenty of these sorts of challenges.
Not that Alloa were agricultural in their approach. The conditions made things tricky for both teams to keep their feet and credit had to be given to both sides as they sought to continue playing passes across the slippery turf. It was clearly going to be a difficult evening for both goalkeepers and Aberdeen might have been better served shooting from distance at Scott Bain, whose job it was to cope with the greasy ball.
He did well when called upon, choosing to punch rather than attempt to catch the ball at corners and tipping over one stinging Peter Pawlett shot from 20 yards. That and a Mark Reynolds header that was sent over the bar were Aberdeen’s better moments in an uninspired first half performance from the hosts.
And Alloa had their own chance to score just after the half hour mark. The returning Jamie Langfield – who replaced Nicky Weaver after serving a one match suspension for his red card against Celtic – tipped away a header from Jason Marr that looked set to loop into the net.
With David Bowie’s Heroes chosen as one of the pre-match records, perhaps Aberdeen were indulging in a spot of reverse psychology and were willing the Alloa players not to over-reach themselves. Or perhaps they truly believed that negotiating a way past a team of part-timers from a lower division was something to which they should aspire.
Of course, in recent years something that should be a straightforward task has proved beyond Aberdeen on too many occasions. Managers have come and gone and still the club have proved unable to shake off this vulnerability in cup competitions. Even Craig Brown, Derek McInnes’ experienced predecessor, was not immune.
The loss on penalties to East Fife in this competition two seasons ago still haunts the Aberdeen support, as do other defeats too numerable to mention.
McInnes wanted to make it known that Alloa were not being treated lightly. He laboured the point in his programme notes and he emphasised it again in his pre-match briefing. He is aware of the recent culture of failure at the club when it comes to this type of contest.
He is also alert to the opportunity offered by the League Cup. It is after all the club’s last trophy win. They cannot afford to treat the competition likely – and in any case, past experience urged them not to.
McInnes handed a first start to Craig Murray who replaced Joe Shaughnessy at right back in one of four changes to the side that lost at Tynecastle on Saturday. Calvin Zola, the lofty and – on this showing – somewhat limited Aberdeen forward, was shadowed by three Alloa centre-backs in a 3-5-2 formation that has served the visitors well this season.
Indeed, Hartley’s admirable side had conceded only three goals in five competitive fixtures prior to last night, two of which had come from the penalty spot. For all their possession, Aberdeen struggled to carve out a single genuine goal-scoring opportunity prior to extra-time.
The impressive Stephen Simmons, meanwhile, blasted a fine chance wide for Alloa after 53 minutes. The apprehension felt by the home fans was replaced by concern for Jonny Hayes, who received a nasty looking head knock in a clash with Daryll Meggatt.
After a long spell of treatment on the pitch, the Aberdeen player was carried off. Gregg Wyle and Scott Vernon were sent on. Unfortunately as far as Aberdeen were concerned, they could not play out the rest of the match with 12 men in a bid to unlock the Alloa defence.
Clark Robertson was withdrawn too. The game finished 11 versus 11, and the scoreline, too, was evenly matched after 90 minutes, and then after 120 minutes – deservedly so.
Aberdeen: Langfield; Murray, Anderson, Reynolds, Robertson (Vernon 67); Hayes (Wylde 67), Flood (Low 53), Jack, Pawlett, McGinn, Zola.
Alloa Athletic: Bain; Doyle, Marr, Gordon, Meggat; Holmes, Simmons (Young 81), McCord, Creaney, Cawley; Kirk (ferns 76).