MARK McGhee’s managerial career has suffered more dramatic fluctuations in fortune than was ever the case during his days as a top player but throughout those trials and tribulations confidence, or rather the lack of it, has never been a problem.
Despite that, even he must have feared defeat in his first two fixtures back in charge at Fir Park, but this point at Pittodrie proved significant steps have already been made between Ian Baraclough’s replacement and the players he inherited to give cause for optimism.
There was certainly plenty of encouragement for the returnee as his current team added to his former club’s woes with a thoroughly deserved draw that leaves Aberdeen with just a solitary point from the last 12 available. In the space of just four league games, the Dons have gone from leading the Premiership by five points to potentially trailing Celtic by four by the time the teams meet at Parkhead next weekend.
The only consolation for their manager, Derek McInnes, was that the visitors were denied victory by a series of quite outstanding saves from Liverpool’s on-loan goalkeeper Danny Ward in the last few minutes of a dramatic game.
“I don’t know if we should have won but we could have won,” was McGhee’s fair assessment afterwards. “Connor Ripley also made a great save to make sure we didn’t lose the game so that balances up. We feel the goal was a soft free kick from a dangerous area but we also felt Adam Rooney never came back onside so the goal he scores is in essence offside and we feel very aggrieved at half-time.
“But the players answered another question from me in terms of having the desire to come back and get something against Aberdeen so I was delighted. Now they have set their standards they must reproduce that against Kilmarnock next week.”
Motherwell certainly played much more positively than against the league leaders the previous weekend, looking comfortable on the ball and passing it effectively in an impressive opening phase of play. The only problem, as it has been all season, is they failed to press home that advantage in that spell and there was an air of inevitability when Aberdeen put a disjointed and surprisingly nervy opening phase of play behind them with the opening goal.
A run of four successive defeats for the first time under McInnes had obviously taken it’s toll on the Pittodrie players’ confidence and their early anxiety transmitted itself to their supporters before Adam Rooney’s latest intervention.
Prior to that Marvin Johnson fizzed a 25-yard drive narrowly wide, Shay Logan’s last-gasp recovery tackle prevented Wes Fletcher climaxing a slick four-man move from inside the six-yard box, while Keith Lasley missed the best chance of the lot. That arrived in 18 minutes as the Dons defence was pulled all over the place before the ball was worked back to the veteran midfielder who was left pounding the turf in frustration after shooting wide.
The afternoon didn’t get any better for Lasley. The Motherwell captain only lasted five minutes of the second half before pulling a muscle chasing Peter Pawlett, which forced his replacement by Lionel Ainsworth and McGhee into rearranging a team already a goal down.
That goal stemmed from a set piece which was always Aberdeen’s best hope of a breakthrough, as Rooney proved when he raced on to Niall McGinn’s free kick to glance home a header for his seventh goal of the season.
If that angered McGhee then Mark Reynolds’ disallowed goal in the second half infuriated his Pittodrie counterpart as that would have put the Dons two goals clear at that point and surely on course for a rare win. “It is tight but having seen it again he was on side,” said McInnes.
He couldn’t have been much happier when Scott McDonald, one of the smallest players on the pitch, claimed the equaliser after easing between two defenders to glance in a header from fellow substitute Lionel Ainsworth’s free kick in 73 minutes.
Aberdeen have now conceded 12 goals in their last five games – certainly not the form they want to be in heading to Celtic Park.