IT WAS fourth time lucky for Danny Lennon as St Mirren made it through to the semi-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup in the most dramatic fashion to inflict what was only Aberdeen’s second defeat of the season.
Scorers: Aberdeen - Vernon (22), Magennis (90); St Mirren - Parkin (6), Mclean (69)
Bookings: St Mirren - van Zanten, Dummett, Goodwin, Guy
The Paisley club’s manager had seen his side lose all three previous quarter-finals since he took over but his players held their nerve to win the penalty shoot-out. That was hardly surprising as the Dons have made a habit of losing in such circumstances down the years, against Queen’s Park, Dunfermline and East Fife to name but three.
St Mirren were perfect from the spot but Stephen Hughes hit the bar with Aberdeen’s first and teenage substitute Cammy Smith saw his effort saved by Craig Samson, who made amends for a blunder earlier in the night.
The omens were hardly encouraging for St Mirren as their only League Cup win in 15 previous attempts against Aberdeen came way back in 1949.
Clement Atlee was Prime Minister, Orson Welles starred in The Third Man at the cinema and a nine-year-old Craig Brown was probably preoccupied with sweets coming off the rationing rather than the score at Love Street that day. Mind you, the veteran Aberdeen manager still has the demeanour of a kid in a candy shop when talking about teenage winger Ryan Fraser, so he would have been disappointed by the news prior to kick-off. The highly-rated youngster fell ill on the morning of the match and was limited to the role of second-half substitute, not that it looked like making a difference given the home side’s impressive start. Jonny Hayes seemed a more than adequate replacement, especially when the former Caley Thistle player won a corner, then expertly delivered the set piece.
Captain Russell Anderson met the left footed inswinger inside the six-yard box and could hardly believe his luck as the ball bounced clear off an unaware Gary Teale.
To make matters worse the visitors took the lead with their first foray forward in six minutes. Jamie Langfield pushed Steven Thompson’s header from Dougie Imrie’s cross onto the bar and Sam Parkin guided in the
Aberdeen continued to pour forward with fluidity, pace and penetration. The only surprise was that it took them until 22 minutes to level as St Mirren’s defence were battered and bruised before finally buckling, although Samson’s negligence was a significant factor.
The goalkeeper had done well to block a Niall McGinn shot in 12 minutes and was relieved to see Marc McAusland deflect Scott Vernon’s drive from the ricochet over the bar.
There was no such redemption when Vernon reached a Mark Reynolds clipped pass forward and looped a header past Samson, who strayed too far off his line, then slipped trying to recover lost ground. St Mirren did threaten on the occasional counter-attack and Langfield sprawled full length to push Jim Goodwin’s long-range free kick around the post in 32 minutes.
Aberdeen continued to play the more controlled football in the second half only to struggle when it came to creating clear cut goalscoring opportunities.
A number of balls were sent flashing across the face of goal to little or no effect but it was still something of a surprise when Lennon’s side went back in front in 69 minutes.
The source was equally unusual as Russell Anderson saw an attempted clearance charged down and the ball rolled nicely into the path of Kenny McLean.
The midfielder showed sublime skill to hit a curling drive on the run from 16 yards that arched its way beyond a rooted Langfield.
Aberdeen’s keeper was similarly static with just a minute left but Steven Thompson’s header crashed off an upright and what Lennon must have feared duly happened.
Two minutes into stoppage time substitute Smith drove a ball into a packed penalty area and Josh Magennis rescued his side by deflecting it into the net.
The home side continued to carry more threat in extra time as Hughes creased the crossbar with shot before Niall McGinn shot wide when he should at least have hit the target.
Lewis Guy then bottled it in stoppage time in extra time, scurrying clear only to freeze when faced with Langfield and then be booked for diving when the chance was lost, but thankfully for him not the tie.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Reynolds, Anderson, Osbourne, Robertson (Smith 83), Hughes, Rae, McGinn, Hayes, Magennis (Naysmith 106), Vernon (Fraser 78). Subs not used: Rogers, Clark.
St Mirren: Samson, Van Zanten, McAusland, Mair, Dummett, Imrie (Carey 87), Goodwin, McLean, Teale, Parkin (Guy 93), Thompson. Subs not used: C Smith, Reilly, Barron.