Aberdeen 2 - 1 Ross County: Dons close gap at top to one point

Aberdeen's Ryan Christie equalises for the home side. Picture: SNS/Paul Devlin
Aberdeen's Ryan Christie equalises for the home side. Picture: SNS/Paul Devlin
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If this was Derek McInnes’ last game in charge of Aberdeen then he is leaving them in a good place to remain ahead of prospective employers Rangers when it comes to Celtic’s closest challengers, for this season at any rate.

The Ibrox club are expected to ask for permission to start negotiations with their former player as he remains the overwhelming favourite to replace Pedro Caixinha as manager but neither McInnes nor his players were overly distracted.

Instead they showed, grit, determination, character and ability to bounce back from the midweek hammering from Celtic to get the win that moves them back to within a point of the champions at the top of the table.

What won’t be lost on the current Dons boss, though, is that even if he surprises many and remains, the match-winning goalscorers will definitely be somewhere else by the time the next campaign gets under way.

Ryan Christie will have returned from his loan period from Celtic while Kenny McLean has already made it clear he won’t extend his stay beyond next May and could yet be sold when the January transfer window opens.

They were without doubt Aberdeen’s best performers and after the loss of several key players in recent times , that continual need for renewal might well be a factor in McInnes’ decision regarding where his own future lies.

Not that he was willing to admit there is a decision to made in the short term as he said: “My focus was just on today’s game. I’m happy to deal with speculation but it has never come to anything in the past and my focus has always been the same.

“My players and my staff’s focus was clear today in terms of trying to win the game. I’m not really wanting to comment too much as I would rather talk about the great response we got after the other night.”

That was certainly positive enough after the early jolt of watching Joe Lewis allow Michael Gardyne’s speculative 35-yard drive squirm under his body.

Christie in particular was anxious to show what he can do after being forced into the role of spectator when his parent club came calling last midweek and handed out a chastening 3-0 hammering to their hosts.

The precociously gifted midfielder exchanged passes with Stevie May before arrowing a shot into the top corner of Aaron McCarey’s net and victory always looked likely after that 12th-minute leveller.

The only surprise was that it took a penalty kick to guarantee it, something Jamie Lindsay should be particular pained by as his clumsy and unnecessary challenge on Graeme Shinnie conceded it.

A bit of Greg Stewart magic created the opening with a sweet reverse pass and McLean made sure the opportunity was taken with a driven spot kick that McCarey couldn’t get near.

To be honest Aberdeen could and should have put the result beyond doubt long before the end but given the hounding they suffered against Celtic and the distractions of subsequent days, their current manager was happy enough afterwards.

“It’s just about getting back on track. In my time here the players have always had a real motivation, when we’ve come off the back of a losing result, to go and start another winning run. It’s not about keeping in touch with Celtic. Today was just important to get the win after Wednesday night because it was a sore one for us.

“It says a lot about their character. Friday was a brilliant day in training, they were really lively and Tony and I left here yesterday really looking forward to the game.

“I thought there were real moments of good play. Although we could and should have added more goals, there’s no doubt we deserved all three points.”

Ross County couldn’t really argue with that assessment even though there are clear signs of improvement under new manager Owen Coyle as his real impact will only really start to show once he’s had the chance to bring in some new players in January.

The loss of goalkeeper Scott Fox and captain Andrew Davies for this game can’t have helped but his assistant Sandy Stewart was honest enough to admit: “We were disappointed the way we conceded the penalty but had no quibbles with it being given.

“The good thing is with a bit of luck we could have taken something from all five games so far but we have been encouraged with what the players have done.”