FIZZ, frenzy and finesse were delivered in generous quantities in an engrossing encounter at Pittodrie today.
SCORERS: Aberdeen - McGinn 52; Dundee United - Paton 6
To those of us in middle-age, a feeling of well-being is engendered by watching Aberdeen and Dundee United slug it out for leading positions in the Scottish top flight since it recalls the era when the pair’s modest resources did not prevent them being genuinely feared teams across the continent.
Those days will never return, but the crackle that enveloped Pittodrie, and the cracking first half the teams served up, definitely made today feel like a modern interpretation of an old narrative. There was breathless ding then dong, see then saw, throughout the opening period, with Jackie McNamara’s team rampaging in the opening stages after taking a sixth-minute lead, before the League Cup winners powered their way back in.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes called his team “relentless” in their pursuit of an equaliser that arrived six minutes into the second period. Much to the relief of Niall McGinn. When he stooped to head in a brilliant left-wing cross by Barry Robson that had both whip and dip, the Irish forward ended a 17-game drought.
“It’s been such a long time, I’d nearly forgotten how to score,” McGinn said, relieved that he has now moved into double figures for the season, on the back of 21 goals last season. “I’d never scored as many goals as that, and was through the middle all the time. I’ve played out wide more and had to adjust and adapt.”
Aberdeen have adjusted and adapted to their elevated status, McInnes pointing out that his side have fought back from going a goal behind in their last three games.
They were able to do so today because Robson drove them on, his manager lauding him for seizing the responsibility and showing the aggression and quality to ensure Aberdeen would “not be beaten”.
This inspiration allowed the home side to wrestle control of a confrontation that looked to be going away from them as United threw everything their way in the early stages.
After Paul Paton had passed the ball into the net when it broke to him on the edge of the area – “it’s not like me, I first thought of smashing it,” said the midfielder who doubled his season’s tally – John Rankin had a fearsome hit beaten away by Jamie Langfield, before Mark Reynolds blocked in a scramble that looked certain to put more daylight between the visitors and their hosts.
In turn Joe Shaughnessy bumping Stuart Armstrong as the midfielder hared into the box might have brought a spot-kick for United.
Thereafter the tide turned, with Radoslaw Cierzniak allowing a McGinn effort to slip under him only to be relieved to see the ball strike the base of the post.
The tempo and the thrills subsided later in the second period, but McInnes was one of few from either side that did not see the draw as the merited outcome. “I thought we were the better team after the first 15 to 20 minutes,” he said. “They are always dangerous on the counter-attack but we dominated and if we had committed more we might have taken some chances.”
The Aberdeen manager admitted that 1-1 was “not the worst result” and, with Motherwell losing, it offers the Pittodrie men the opportunity to move four points clear of their pursuers away to Hearts on Wednesday night. Even if United have now won eight and drawn two of their past ten games, it seems unlikely that Aberdeen will be overhauled. Not that McInnes is agonising over the league placing of the club he will lead into a Scottish Cup semi-final against St Johnstone in a fortnight. “We will finish where we deserve to finish,” he said.
That the rivalry between Aberdeen and United could be building to a big finish – they could well meet in the final of the Scottish Cup – was not lost on the combatants today. McGinn described the fixture and the jousting between the pair as having “massive potential”, with fellow scorer Paton pointing to the fact that such a large contingent of United fans travelled as reflecting the attractiveness of the duel.
Both teams were missing arguably their ultimate matchwinners, injury counting out Peter Pawlett and Johnny Hayes for the home team while suspension deprived McNamara of Nadir Ciftci and Andrew Robertson. The two teams at full strength could really land some blows going toe-to-toe but Paton, almost alone, felt the physical was all too prominent in today’s contest. “It was a pretty poor game,” said the United man, who praised his central rival Robson despite being caught a few times during their personal contest. “It was more a battling display than anything else.”
If the two clubs continue their upward trajectory, this fixture could yet become a battle royal again.