SIX days after their historic Scottish League Cup final victory, it was business as usual for Aberdeen at Pittodrie yesterday.
Adam Rooney and Ryan Jack scored the goals that secured victory over Kilmarnock and ensured that they are free to enjoy today’s open-topped bus parade in the city.
With this afternoon’s civic reception at the back of their minds, there was potential for embarrassment here, especially when Kris Boyd gave Kilmarnock an early lead, but the home side quickly cancelled it out and eventually grabbed a late winner, albeit after making hard work of their stuffy opponents.
It could and should have been more comfortable, but after the week they have had, Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager, was just glad that his team had dealt with the job in hand. Despite a glimpse of the trophy beforehand, they were focused enough to take three points and remain ahead of third-placed Motherwell in the Scottish Premiership.
“It was difficult today, coming back to Pittodrie for a game that was all about last Sunday,” said McInnes. “The supporters wanted to enjoy it still, the programme was full of it and the players were being congratulated by people they hadn’t seen since last weekend. So as much as I’ve gone on and on about keeping focused, it could have been a problem, but they dealt with it well. I thought it was closer than the scoreline suggested. We dominated from start to finish.”
The biggest surprise was the attendance. While tens of thousands are expected to line Union Street this afternoon, the official crowd yesterday was 14,029, just 880 more than the number who watched these sides at Pittodrie in August. “I’m really surprised at that figure because there didn’t seem to be many empty seats,” said McInnes. “The fans made a good atmosphere and we have to thank them for that.”
The party mood was at its height just before kick-off. Peter Pawlett and Jonny Hayes carried the trophy out on to the pitch, where they were acclaimed by the home support, treated to a pre-arranged flag display and, rather less predictably, soaked by a nearby sprinkler. Peter Pawlett Baby, as the Human League’s 1980s hit is henceforth to be known, belted out through the public-address system, while a banner behind the goal paid tribute to Stewart Milne. “19 years, 120 minutes then fxxxxng penalties,” it read, echoing the profanity that has won the chairman new friends in the club’s support.
All of which made life a little awkward for the home side, who were without the injured Pawlett and Hayes, as well as Barry Robson, restricted to a place on the bench. The potential for a party-pooping Kilmarnock goal was in everyone’s minds, and before long, an uncomfortable hush had settled over Pittodrie. After just ten minutes, the home side’s worst fears were realised.
Nothing seemed to be on when Rory McKenzie collected the ball wide on the right, carried it to the edge of the penalty area with a spearing infield run and fed Kris Boyd in the box. With his back to goal, the striker quickly spun and pulled a low shot into the bottom corner. The jubilant former Rangers player spent more time goading the Aberdeen support than he did celebrating with Kilmarnock’s.
Aberdeen’s mentality was being tested sooner than McInnes would have liked, but to his players’ great credit, they responded. Only six minutes later, Rooney exchanged passes with Nicky Low before striking a low, if not especially powerful, shot past the diving Craig Samson.
For the rest of the first half, Aberdeen made all the running, with the best of their chances falling to Niall McGinn. Twice the striker was set up with a cutback – one from Rooney, another from Smith – but on each occasion he was too easily distracted by his marker. Both of his shots were turned hastily over the bar.
Aberdeen were always on the front foot, but without Pawlett and Hayes, they struggled to penetrate Kilmarnock’s defence. There was a claim for a penalty when Andy Considine went down in the box, but for long spells, the home side were kept at bay. Jamie Langfield, in fact, was the goalkeeper who had to look liveliest, smothering a low shot by Boyd.
McInnes introduced Barry Robson for Low, and, with 19 minutes left, they grabbed their second. It was no thing of beauty. Smith took a swipe at Considine’s low cross, but his fresh-air shot allowed the ball to run on. From 18 yards, Jack poked it through a crowded penalty area and past Samson.
“We set out to frustrate them and I think we did that for long periods,” said Allan Johnston, the Kilmarnock manager. “There wasn’t much between the teams.”