ABERDEEN’s large travelling support had every reason to enjoy this.
St Johnstone 0 Aberdeen 2 (Pawlett 17, McGinn 85)
Not only did their team produce a sound performance that lifted them to fourth in the Scottish Premiership, there was a gem of a goal by Niall McGinn and the added bonus of seeing one of their former players subjected to the most humiliating of dismissals.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson, a guest of St Johnstone in the main stand, can rarely have seen so bizarre a sending-off. In the 69th minute, with the home side a goal down, their manager, Tommy Wright, introduced Rory Fallon as a substitute. Just 51 seconds later, the big striker was being given a straight red card for elbowing Michael Hector. He hadn’t even touched the ball.
Without wishing to make light of the challenge, it was a comical episode. Aberdeen fans had booed Fallon on to the pitch, but when he found himself, almost immediately, heading in the opposite direction, there was hilarity in the away end. “There’s only one Rory Fallon,” was the cry.
There was no complaint from Fallon after the incident, or indeed after the game, which led his manager to conclude that the correct decision had been made. “I think he is better staying out of my way,” said Tommy Wright. “He has been sent on to give us a bit of aggression, but he has channelled it in the wrong way. That killed the game for us.”
It was a frantic exchange, with little – except the goals – to commend it, but the visitors deserved their win. Ahead thanks to an early strike by Peter Pawlett, they were more disciplined at the back and produced the better chances long before McGinn settled the issue with a late second.
If it was not exactly redolent of Aberdeen under Sir Alex in the 1980s, it was a relief for Derek McInnes, their manager, to secure three points in his presence. “The last time he spoke highly of us, at the Scottish Cup draw, we never won for two games so it was good for him to see us winning,” said McInnes.
Sir Alex spent four seasons as a player at St Johnstone. Apparently, the man who scored a hat-trick for them at Ibrox 50 years ago this month also had a decent spell in charge of Manchester United, who provided the opposition when this stadium opened officially in 1989.
With so many familiar faces pitching up in Perth, it should have come as no surprise that the scorer of the opening goal was a player who spent much of last season on loan to the Perth club. Pawlett was recovering from injury during his time with St Johnstone, but there is not much wrong with him now. Playing off the central striker, he looked menacing from the start, exchanging a quick one-two with Scott Vernon before pulling his shot wide.
That, though, was only the warm-up for a second, altogether more accurate hit a few minutes later. Having dispossessed Chris Millar, Barry Robson fed Vernon, who in turned pushed the ball to Pawlett. He scampered forward before skelping a left-foot shot into the bottom corner with the aid of a slight deflection.
Aberdeen had the best of the first half, with Pawlett, Jonny Hayes and McGinn all combining to stretch the home side, who managed to test Jamie Langfield only once. The rampaging Stevie May took Nigel Hasselbaink’s flick on the run before releasing a shot that the Aberdeen goalkeeper did well to divert round his post.
Early in the second half, Alan Mannus had a similar save to make at the other end. Pawlett was at the heart of it again, surging forward from midfield, laying it wide to Hayes and taking the return pass in his stride. His sweetly-struck half-volley was turned round the post.
St Johnstone’s frustration was clear. When Mannus waded in among the travelling support to retrieve a stray ball, he found himself squaring up to one spectator, who was quickly led from the stadium. Then, when Gwion Edwards wasted a clear chance by shooting weakly at the goalkeeper, his manager had a hissy fit in the technical area.
Wright’s mood was not helped by the Fallon incident, after which Aberdeen fully exploited their numerical advantage. With five minutes left, McGinn burst into space down the left and checked his run before looking up and bending a perfect, powerful shot into the far corner.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Jahic, Wright, Scobbie, Millar (Edwards 55), Davidson, McDonald (Caddis 88), Wotherspoon, May, Hasselbaink (Fallon 70). Subs not used: Cregg, Banks, Miller, Brown.
Sent off: Fallon
Aberdeen: Langfield, Hector, Anderson, Considine, Reynolds, Jack, McGinn, Pawlett, Robson (Low 89), Hayes (Flood 77), Vernon (Magennis 88). Subs not used: Shaughnessy, Zola, Wylde, Weaver.
Ref: W Collum