Mixu Paatelainen has already warned there’s a long winter ahead at Tannadice and even for someone used to such things growing up in Finland you sense this is shaping up to be the most gruelling he has ever endured.
Dundee United have now won just five of their last 29 league matches stretching back to February and while Paatelainen played with distinction for both these clubs, he left Pittodrie having his fears enhanced regarding which of those are in by far the better shape right now.
Second-half goals from Dubliners Adam Rooney and Jonny Hayes, in the sort of form that makes you wonder why he isn’t also in the Republic of Ireland squad with the Dons top scorer, ended Aberdeen’s miserable run of six games without a win.
It’s not what he was hoping for but it was probably what Paatelainen expected as he said: “We had a chance to lead at half time, didn’t take it and paid the price. Slackness crept back in again in the second half. “We need to cut that out otherwise the results won’t improve, so I’m disappointed. We have to play well enough for as long as takes to improve results but the goals they scored were too soft, too easy.
“The boys will not get any days off next week as there is a lot to do defensively and offensively as players look like they are restricted in their movement. It’s no where near good enough.”
That’s a spot on assessment as Aberdeen may have struggled to turn possession into goals before the interval but they played with a fluency, skill and imagination in attack the visitors never came close to matching as they toiled to do anything constructive.
That is most clearly reflected by the fact that they have now gone seven games and more than 10-and-a-half-hours of football without scoring a single goal from open play as the only one delivered under the new manager was a penalty against Ross County.
It’s the sort of run that is bound to erode confidence as Scott Fraser illustrated when a rare Ryan Jack mistake in 39 minutes allowed the youngster a clear run on goal only for him to fail even to force Danny Ward to make a save.
Meanwhile, the United goal led a charmed life at the other end, although their manager’s pragmatic use of two banks of four to protect Michal Szromnick did work to some extent when it came to staunching the flow of Aberdeen’s attacks.
Niall McGinn was benched for the first time since the opening match of the league season, but Jonny Hayes and Graeme Shinnie down the left, with Shay Logan raiding on the right, meant they were still able to stretch their opponents close to breaking point. To such an extent that Ryan McGowan nearly slashed a clearance into his own net as did Mark Durnan when trying to cope with a Shinnie cross, while Szromnik was forced into more direct action to deny the former Inverness defender a goal in 27 minutes
This time it was Kenny McLean who provided the cross, Shinnie the crisp volley and the Polish goalkeeper the smart reaction save low to his left to fingertip the ball round the post to safety. But he didn’t look too clever when Aberdeen broke through in 52 minutes.
Hayes whipped in a near-post cross that was merely deflected into air and Rooney simply showed more aggression and determination than the defenders around him to force the ball over the line for his third goal in the last three games and ninth overall this season.
The only irony for the lugubrious Paatelainen was that the goal that finally put the result beyond doubt came during the only spell in the match where his side looked the more threatening.
Sean Dillon, then the unfortunate Fraser flashed efforts just wide from the edge of the area but both were out of position when the Dons broke clear as an intelligent run by Shinnie dragged the former into the centre.
That opened up the space for Hayes to race down the left wing at a pace Fraser was never like to match and the Irishman took Peter Pawlett’s pass in his stride before drilling an accurate shot across the goalkeeper and in at his left-hand post.
United hope to get clearance in time for Japan international goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima to make his debut at home to St Johnstone while Aberdeen head for Hamilton two weeks today determined to prove this was no one-off revival.
Manager Derek McInnes is confident that the case and said: “That for me was a performance we have seen time and time again over the last couple of seasons and it’s good to get back to winning ways. I thought we were totally dominant.”