It’s official, we have a title race. But goodness, if this is what we’re in for from Aberdeen, everyone had better fasten their seatbelts.
This was a game that would perplex even the greatest analytical football minds but in the end victory was all that mattered for Derek McInnes’s side as it ensured they drew level with Celtic at the Premiership summit. All the more so as they overcame a stubborn St Johnstone who have made a habit of tripping them up in recent seasons, including a painful 1-5 victory at Pittodrie last September.
The Perth men made a late effort to give the visiting support the heebie-jeebies in this one, scoring two goals to reduce the deficit but the Dons held on to make it 12 games unbeaten. Having done the hard bit by beating Celtic in midweek, this is the sort of fixture they just had to win not only to convince the sceptics, but probably also themselves, that they really can take this challenge to the wire.
Overall they deservedly prevailed through a mixture of ruthlessness, sharpness and a pinch of good fortune.
Knock them altogether, add Adam Rooney again delivering the goods with another couple of goals, and you have the mix for a decent crack at chasing trophies.
“My concern was always the closing 15 minutes,” insisted McInnes after regaining his breath, “with the energy we used up in the game against Celtic we knew it was going to be hard.
“We got the start we wanted to, but the biggest test was when St Johnstone pulled it back to 1-2. We came through that really well and got the two goals. But it needed big hearts when we were running on empty at the end.”
His side built a winning platform in this game within the first 20 minutes. It helped that in Saints they found opponents who were uncommonly generous with defensive gifts but the Pittodrie men did half make them pay for it. We were still at the sparring stage when Danny Swanson, making his return to McDiarmid Park after his release by Hearts, made a hash of a clearance, sending it straight to Cammy Smith on the edge of the Saints box. The ball was ushered out to Shay Logan whose low cross found Rooney where strikers love to lurk – two yards from goal – and he buried it beyond Alan Mannus.
They went further ahead when another piece of lamentably slack play in the midfield from the hosts saw Graeme Shinnie hare off on the offensive until he was tripped by Liam Craig. From the resultant free kick Peter Pawlett drove in a low shot that took a telling deflection en route to goal.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though and the visitors rode their luck as Tam Scobbie smacked a shot against the post and Graham Cummins couldn’t squeeze the ball in after having rounded Scott Brown.To their credit Saints continued press forward after the break and they quickly reaped a reward when a lovely back heel from Steven MacLean set up David Wotherspoon to take his time before drilling it past Brown to reduce the deficit.
It swayed from end to end after in fascinating fashion thereafter. The problem as far as the hosts were concerned was that this merely served to cruelly expose their defensive frailties. Joe Shaughnessy was caught out under pressure and gifted the ball to Niall McGinn who squared for Simon Church for a simple tap in. Rooney then quickly added a fourth with an ambling run down the left which ended with him poking the ball into the far corner of the net.
That should have been that but, in finale that can only be described as crazy, Saints clawed a couple of goals back through a Steven Anderson header and a Scobbie drive to give the scoreline a surreal look. The two defenders did their bit but over the 90 minutes it was probably at the wrong end of the park.
“If you had said before the game we would score three, I would have said we would win,” a frustrated Tommy Wright reflected, “but all four goals we lost were horrendous.”