THE fact that Dumbarton were applauded off the park was a mark of how well they performed in this match and a sign of how far Aberdeen have come this season.
With one cup final already in the bag and victory in this one edging them one step closer to a Scottish Cup final as well, the edginess and disappointment associated with the Pittodrie club and knockout competition in recent years is absent. They can afford to be more magnanimous.
With 40,000 tickets sold for next Sunday’s League Cup final there is a sense of purpose these days at Pittodrie, with fans, players and staff all imbued with the same belief that this term could signal the end of what has been a period of trophy purgatory in the north-east. In fact, such is the resurgence, few expected this match to be anything more than a formality. Dumbarton had been on a run of nine games without defeat but, given the fact they ousted Celtic in the previous round, sit second in the Premiership and are being talked about in terms of a cup double, Aberdeen’s place in the semi-finals had already been pencilled in.
But the Derek McInnes mantra is consistent. He doesn’t want anyone getting carried away. “We anticipated a tough match. Dumbarton have averaged two goals away from home all season. We gave them the utmost respect,” said the Aberdeen gaffer. “They have good energy, a good level of player and good organisation. But I think it has to be said that we thoroughly deserved the win.”
That cautionary realism proved justified as the game evolved throughout the first half and the opening part of the second period. Dumbarton may not have been big on talking the talk but, with a semi-final within touching distance, they were intent on walking the walk and, even in the dying minutes of the match, they were doing everything they could to grab an equaliser.
They had gone behind to an Adam Rooney header in the 52nd minute where the marking at a corner proved one of the few negatives in their display. It was a costly lapse, though. They could have salvaged the situation in the final few minutes but Paul McGinn failed to capitalise on a breakaway.
“Paul is devastated with himself but I know, as a full-back, that headers at the back post in the Scottish Cup aren’t our strong point,” said Dumbarton manager Ian Murray, who was proud of his team’s effort. “We’ll cut him a bit of slack. He’s an excellent player and stood up to a good winger in Jonny Hayes. Of course, he will be gutted because he’s not often on Sportscene and now he’ll have to watch that miss but overall it was an excellent performance.”
The Championship side were forced to contend with an array of Aberdeen attacks at the start of the match before the game settled into something more balanced and by half-time the possession was almost 50-50, with both sides weighing in with goal attempts. But, interestingly, for an Aberdeen support so haunted by past embarrassments and near misses in these knock-out competitions, there was little anxiety in the stands and no signs of panic on the pitch.
There was a belief that the breakthrough would, eventually, come.
Having tested Dumbarton’s stomach for a contest in the opening period of the first half, when Shaleum
Logan evaded the attentions of former Dons player Mitch Megginson and Scott Linton to drive into the box and set up Adam Rooney, and Barry Robson proved difficult to pin down on the right, the sizeable travelling support would not have been too despondent. In the 11th minute Scott Linton came close, driving past both Barry Robson and Willo Flood but he pulled his shot and it went just wide.
Five minutes later Robson almost opened the scoring for Aberdeen but his header was blocked by Dumbarton keeper Stephen Grindlay. It was a bit scrappy, though, as he couldn’t hold and it came back off his own man but he smothered it before it could cross the line.
Robson forced another save from Grindlay two minutes later but his diving save saw the ball safely round the post.
As the second half started, though, it was Dumbarton applying the pressure as Jamie Langfield fumbled and Russell Anderson had to sweep up. Then Andrew Considine had to slide in to block from Scott Agnew, but they were hit with a sucker punch. At the other end, Robson swung in the perfect corner for Rooney to head home and from then on – as Dumbarton’s part-time players struggled with niggles and knocks – Aberdeen looked fairly in control, although the scoreline left them vulnerable.
“I felt that one or two of their injuries affected their team a little bit but they kept on going and while it was 1-0 they always had a chance,” admitted McInnes. “There was a need to keep concentration and be professional but, over the piece, I don’t think anyone could deny we deserved to win the game.
“You could see at the end how the boys had emptied themselves,” said Murray. “We came up here to do ourselves justice.” His players certainly did that. They just simply came up against a better team.
There was no shame in it for them but there was another cup semi-final in it for Aberdeen.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Logan, Considine, Flood, Anderson, Reynolds, Jack, Robson (Low 87), Rooney (Vernon 83), Smith (McGinn 70). Subs not used: Weaver, Shaughnessy, Zola, Tate.
Goals: Rooney 59’. Booked: None.
Dumbarton: Grindlay, McGinn, Linton (Smith 63), Agnew (Prunty 70), Graham, Miller, Gilhaney, Kane, Megginson, Nish (Fleming 60), Kirkpatrick. Subs not used: McDougall, Thomson, Ewings, Murray.
Goals: None. Booked: None.
Ref: K Clancy. Attendance: 10,600