ABERDEEN triumphed in this robust New Firm derby which ensured they got 2014 off to a flier, while Dundee United were left to reflect on their third successive league defeat which had looked impossible of late.
Derek McInnes’s side were the New Year visitors to Tayside and earned nothing more than they deserved for their efforts which culminated in Peter Pawlett heading home a winner in the final minute to keep on the shoulder of second-top Motherwell and strike a blow against their Tannadice rivals in the race for that coveted second place.
It could easily have been different, though, had Jackie McNamara’s United capitalised on John Souttar’s 50th-minute headed opener but there was a grittiness about the Dons on this horrid winter’s day which strongly suggested they would not quit. Their efforts, though not
always pretty, were rewarded when Barry Robson equalised with a 64th minute penalty before Pawlett did the rest by nodding past United keeper Radolsaw Cierzniak at the death.
“Dundee United rested a few players against St Johnstone and it was as though they treated this as the big game for them,” said Pawlett. “When we saw that we thought they were giving us respect and think we’re a decent team. Maybe they didn’t show enough respect to St Johnstone.
“I think over the 90 minutes we looked the stronger, fitter team so maybe it was a mistake by them. We have capitalised on it so that’s alright.”
Pawlett put the icing on the cake for the relentless Reds, who battled to cancel Souttar’s
opener for the Taysiders.
There were times during his hotly-contested tussle when it looked as though ice-cool Cierzniak would defy the Dons. However, he had no answer right at the end.
McInnes was quick to shower man-of-the-match Pawlett with praise.
“I thought it was just (that) Peter got the winning goal as he was outstanding,” he said. “I don’t think Dundee United knew how to deal with him and he can only get better.”
United made seven changes from the side which lost in Perth a few days earlier. Back came the likes of Gary Mackay-Steven, Ryan Gauld, Stuart Armstrong and Nadir Ciftci in a bid to get the Taysiders back to winning ways following back-to-back
There was a low-key start as the teams attempted to suss each other out, although Willo Flood did go over the top to become the first player to be booked in 16 minutes for clattering Gary Mackay-Steven.
It took until midway through the first-half for the hosts to create their first real opportunity as Ciftci drifted past both Jonny Hayes and then Mark Reynolds.
However, the Turkish striker’s tame shot failed to trouble Dons keeper Jamie Langfield.
On 30 minutes, Aberdeen had a golden opportunity to break the deadlock.
Souttar was robbed by Pawlett who, in turn, released Barry as he raced through on Cierzniak’s goal.
Former United midfielder Robson appeared odds-on to burst the net from 16 yards but he fired his shot right at Cierzniak who beat the effort away.
Aberdeen stepped up the gears after the break when they had a double opportunity to get their noses in front.
Firstly, Pawlett had a shot blocked by United skipper Gavin Gunning after Niall McGinn had worked his way into the danger area, before Pawlett moments later brought out a fine save from Cierzniak.
But, on 50 minutes, Souttar made it 1-0 to the hosts.
Mark Wilson’s inswinging corner eluded the entire Aberdeen defence as well as Langfield, who had came off his line and missed it completely, allowing Souttar to rise unchallenged and nod home the opener, his first Premiership goal for
However, their lead was short-lived as Aberdeen equalised in controversial fashion 14 minutes later.
Robson’s ball forward took a bounce before hitting Andrew Robertson, who knew little about it.
Referee Willie Collum, though, gave a penalty and
up stepped Robson to blast home.
That gave the visitors the bit between their teeth to go and press for a winner, something which almost came in 76 minutes when McGinn’s curling shot from 20-yards was brilliantly saved by Cierzniak.
Aberdeen kept going and got their reward in the 90th minute when Robson’s free-kick was headed towards his own goal by Souttar, forcing Cierzniak to try and save.
From the rebound, Pawlett was quickest to react and he nodded the ball over the line.
United manager McNamara felt the decision for Aberdeen’s penalty was harsh on his side and reckoned the game was a poor affair all round.
“I spoke to Andrew and he thinks the ball hit him on the chest but the referee made the decision quickly,” he said. “Sometimes they go for you and other times they don’t.
“We’re disappointed because it was a frustrating way to finish the match.
“There wasn’t much quality in the game,” he added.
“It was a lot of free-kicks and stop-start. I thought it would be someone’s mistake who would decide the game.
“We maybe didn’t deserve to score and go in front when we did but there wasn’t a lot of quality in the game.”
Dundee Utd: Cierzniak, Wilson, Souttar, Gunning, Robertson, Rankin, Paton (Gomis, 70), Mackay-Steven, Gauld (Graham, 69), Armstrong, Ciftci. Subs not used: McCallum, Dillon, Goodwillie, Erskine, Dow.
Goals: J Souttar, 51
Booked: R Wilson, P Paton.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Hector, Anderson, Reynolds, Hayes, Jack, Flood, Robson, Pawlett (Shaughnessy, 92), McGinn, Vernon (Magennis, 60). Subs not used: Weaver, Smith, Wylde, Low, Shankland.
Goals: B Robson, 64 pen; P Pawlett, 90
Booked: W Flood, J Magennis
Ref: W Collum