ABERDEEN will travel to Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibs at Hampden in improved fettle after this victory ended a run of three straight defeats.
Dundee United, however, will be left wondering if an inexplicable blunder from Dusan Pernis has just cost them a shot at Champions League football.
With the game finely poised at 1-1, following early strikes from Darren Mackie and Jon Daly, Pernis allowed a Rory McArdle cross to slip through his hands to give Chris Clark an easy tap-in. Ten minutes later Ryan Jack made sure of the win.
“We didn’t play well enough but two pivotal moments in the game killed it for us,” said United boss Peter Houston. “We were denied what I thought was a stonewall penalty early on. I asked the referee why he didn’t give it and he told me it was an accident. There are a lot of accidents on the pitch but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fouls.
“Dusan also made an uncharacteristic error. He let the ball slip through his hands and apologised to the players after the game.
“I’m not blaming him. He has made some saves that have won us games and everyone makes mistakes. He will bounce back and so will we.”
The hefty United support which had travelled north were keen to remind their hosts of the 17-year trophy drought they are experiencing, but it was Aberdeen who looked hungrier from the off and they took a deserved early lead in the 12th minute through Mackie.
Before that, United had a penalty claim waved away when Scott Robertson sped past Gavin Rae and crashed to the deck appealing for a spot-kick.
Referee Calum Murray didn’t so much as acknowledge the claim, allowing play to rage on and Robertson was left feeling aggrieved.
His anger would have been further fuelled moments later as Aberdeen got a real grip on the game.
Firstly, Scott Vernon showed his predatory skills by aiming for the top corner from 20 yards. That effort looked goal-bound until Gavin Gunning got his body behind the ball and deflected it for a corner.
Then came the opener. Jack made space for himself on the right flank and picked out Mackie, who did the rest as he spotted Pernis off his line and lobbed the ball home.
Mackie is a player who has devoted his entire career to Aberdeen but even as he celebrates his testimonial season, he divides opinion down the middle.
His timing, however, cannot be questioned. With a Scottish Cup semi-final place up for grabs next weekend, that goal could seal his place in the team. He may also hold out hope it will give his manager Craig Brown pause for thought when it comes to letting the out-of- contract stalwart leave the club in the summer. Stephen Hughes then came close to making the afternoon even brighter for Aberdeen as he picked up the ball on the edge of the penalty box before aiming for the top corner. This time, though, Pernis was well positioned and he clawed the effort wide for a corner kick.
That was the catalyst for Dundee United’s comeback as they finally began to venture into the Aberdeen half. John Rankin curled a 20-yard strike over the top before Houston’s men levelled on 28 minutes.
The goal was straight from the Tannadice side’s training ground and the quality of the finish from Daly was exceptional. Willo Flood’s low corner picked out the on-rushing Daly and his low effort was volleyed beyond Jason Brown from 15 yards.
The second half was an open affair, with both teams believing they could win it.
United were first to have a go as Daly lined up a 25-yard free-kick. However, the execution was poor and the ball went harmlessly over. Mackie then had a low effort blocked by Pernis before Gunning’s header rippled the side-net at the other end.
With the United support filling their time by continuing to taunt their success-starved Aberdeen counterparts, the home side decided it was time to do their talking on the park as they regained the lead on 68 minutes.
The goal was a personal disaster for Pernis as McArdle’s cross slipped through his fingertips to present Clark with an easy finish.
Jack rubbed salt into United’s wounds with a late header and suddenly things look a whole lot healthier for Aberdeen ahead of their trip to Hampden. That’s certainly the way their manager, Craig Brown, sees it following a performance that lifted his spirits. “I’ve now got a major selection headache for the semi-final,” he said afterwards. “The first 20 minutes and last half hour of today’s game were the best we’ve played all season.”