When Aberdeen’s chief goal plunderer Adam Rooney was last month ruled out until April with a thigh injury, it was considered the death knell for the club’s hopes of wresting the title from Celtic. Instead, bells could be ringing on high at Pittodrie come the Premiership’s conclusion thanks to a Church pealing off goals.
The stirring fightback in the 2-1 success away to Partick Thistle on Tuesday night that has moved Derek McInnes’s side to within one point of the champions was underpinned by a deft headed winner from Simon Church that took his tally to four goals in six games. The arrival of the 27-year-old Welshman on loan from MK Dons in the final day of the transfer window is daring Dons fans in the Granite City to believe that the nine league games they have remaining – one fewer than Ronny Deila’s side – could deliver a title they had started to think was impervious to their best efforts.
Church is becoming his temporary club’s lucky charm. Since he made it 2-0 against Celtic in his Aberdeen debut that brought a 2-1 victory, effectively, his goals have delivered three wins and a draw. He was signed to partner Rooney but instead he has played the Rooney part in the Pittodrie side.
Yet the relationship has been of mutual benefit. Church seemed to lose his way in recent years. In the four years before fronting up at Aberdeen he had only scored 13 goals. After helping Reading claim the Championship in 2011-12, he did not feature in the Premier League for the club, and was farmed out to Huddersfield. After being released he had a two-year spell with Charlton, before he was freed and headed to MK Dons last summer. Only in Aberdeen colours, though, has his finishing touch returned.
“I’m finding myself enjoying the games a lot more,” he said. “I’m obviously enjoying the challenge and thankfully I’ve added a few more goals but we need to keep it going for nine more games. The crosses are coming in, the chances are there and it’s up to me to put them away. What striker doesn’t like scoring goals?”
Helping Aberdeen take on Celtic in the title race and in the process take a leap towards the Euro 2016 finals were primary motivations for Church heading north. The player has been capped 29 times for his country. Three of these appearance came this season, so he cannot be far from Chris Coleman’s thoughts. Church has bagged two goals at international level and the first of these – which came in a 3-0 win over Scotland in November 2009 – isn’t far from his thoughts when asked about his favourite goals from his career.
“Aberdeen’s a team that are up there, they’ve been up there all season challenging for it and that was a massive factor in me coming,” he said. “Another was getting back among the goals and pushing the chance I have to play, not only to get in the squad but to play at the Euros and give Chris Coleman something to think about.”
Church is a course and distance performer for Aberdeen in this run-in courtesy of his success with Reading in the Championship in 2012. “That was a great feeling and a great season for me,” he said. He will use the experience to remind him of the ultimate fundamental in football. “Take each games as it comes,” he said. “I’ll use that one.
“We’ve got another big one on Saturday against Kilmarnock and again that’s going to be tough, it won’t be as easy as everyone thinks. Partick showed that.
“The lads showed a lot of courage and quality to come through. We had the fight then and in the last couple of results. Tuesday was a massive result for us. At 1-0 down we could have dropped our heads, it’s a tough place to come and they were playing well. But we ground out a result.”