THEY say a week is a long time in politics but a fortnight in football could see Aberdeen close in on a historic season.
This time next Sunday, the Dons will be hoping their name will be in the hat for the Scottish Cup semi-final draw, as they prepare for a Scottish Communities League Cup final against Inverness. And while yesterday’s win over ten-man St Johnstone was far from spectacular, they are carving out the sort of results they need to become the first Dons side to taste silverware in 19 years.
Ryan Jack was the hero of the hour yesterday. A month ago his season was in tatters as he picked up a hip injury that threatened his chances of starring in the business end of the season. Now though, he’s fit and ready for Dumbarton and Caley Thistle.
“Ryan is a really important player for us and I’m glad he’s back,” said Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes. “He proved his worth with that strike. He struck the ball superbly well and should score more goals for us but he gives so much else to the team. We need to also look at our defence. To have 18 clean sheets is a superb record for a side outwith Celtic.”
Jack added: “We’ve got a lot of big games coming up and I want to be involved. The next one is against Dumbarton in the Scottish Cup and that’s all I’m thinking about. We can’t look too far ahead and we haven’t achieved anything. A lot has changed this season. We have a new management team, new players and a new focus and it’s a very enjoyable season – so far. We’re in second place and a cup final but we haven’t achieved anything yet.”
Aberdeen stand on the cusp of greatness with two potential cup successes within touching distance and second place theirs for the taking. And they showed just how determined they are to succeed when they netted inside eight minutes yesterday. The resurgent Peter Pawlett squared for unsung hero Jack who shifted balance from left to right before drilling low beyond Alan Mannus.
Chants of “The Sheep Are On Fire” reverberated around Pittodrie, in a humorous reference to the club’s adopted nickname and how they are back in the groove.
Moments later, those same supporters were almost celebrating a second goal. Again Pawlett was involved as he picked out the on-rushing Willo Flood. Flood tried to emulate Jack but his low effort was blocked by Dave Mackay.
With that, St Johnstone began to find their feet and threaten Jamie Langfield. Lee Croft was first to try his luck as he cut inside Mark Reynolds and drilled an effort into Langfield’s body.
Langfield then produced a similar stop to deny David Wotherspoon from 25 yards.
Saints No.1 Alan Mannus was equally comfortable in stopping Adam Rooney’s long-range effort.
With the first-half clock ticking, Aberdeen were keen to make their lead more convincing. Rooney tried to net in spectacular fashion on 27 minutes as he met a Shaleum Logan cross only to send a bicycle kick high and wide.
The Perth side could and really should have been level on 38 minutes. Michael O’Halloran found space inside the penalty box and had a clear sight on goal. But he mis-kicked his effort and it skidded wide with gasps from the visiting support.
Tommy Wright’s side began the second period with renewed purpose and Stevie May was unfortunate not to draw his side level on 48 minutes. May broke clear of the Dons defence but his strike was turned away by Langfield.
The McDiarmid Park men were now firmly on top and it seemed only a matter of time before they fought their way back into the game. Croft met a Wotherspoon cross only for his header to go straight to Langfield. O’Halloran then made space for a thunderous low strike that cannoned off the post.
However, Saints’ day of woe was complete with the injury-time red card of Steven MacLean, who walked for a second booking – a late lunge on Flood.
Saints manager Wright said: “The tackle by Steven wasn’t frustration, it was a mis-timed challenge that led to a poor decision by the referee. It wasn’t a second yellow card in my opinion. The fourth official said it was reckless but if that’s the case why was nothing done when Aberdeen had an identical challenge a few moments later?
“The danger here is that if we go around punishing mis-timed challenges like that all the time we’ll end up with 7 v 7.
“The referee couldn’t wait to get his card out of his pocket.”
Aberdeen: Langfield, Logan, Considine, Flood, Tate, Reynolds, Jack (Robson 63), Pawlett (Low 78), McGinn (Smith 63), Rooney, Hayes. Subs not used: Weaver, Shaughnessy, Anderson, Vernon. Goals: Jack 8.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Miller, Easton, Dunne, Anderson, Mackay, O’Halloran, McDonald (Iwelumo 84), May, Croft (Hasselbaink 85), Wotherspoon (MacLean 62). Subs not used: Banks, Cregg, Millar, Clancy. Booked: MacKay, Miller. Sent off: MacLean.
Ref: W Collum. Attendance: 11,487.