THIS match may have kicked off 20 minutes late thanks to an incident on the A90 which at one stage left traffic backed up to Montrose, and the legions of Aberdeen fans may have faced a trying trip home after the other main road back north, the A92, was completely closed by an accident.
SCORERS: Rankin (21), McGinn (52)
BOOKINGS: Rankin, Anderson
There can, however, have been few complaints about the fare on offer at Tannadice once they finally arrived.
Encounters between the New Firm rivals are rarely dull and this game crackled as the momentum swung between the two sides, with Dundee United belying their lowly league position with a performance of real commitment spliced with a cutting edge that left managers Peter Houston and Craig Brown both declaring themselves satisfied afterwards. Aberdeen responded in kind with a second-half display that brought them back on level terms and showed why they are at the pointy end of the league table.
The first half started slowly but gradually began to come to life once the initial sparring was over. Both sides were determined to shoot on sight, but it was the home side which worked the best opportunities and shot most often, with Stuart Armstrong’s rasping shot into Jamie Langfield’s arms after just seven minutes a sign of things to come.
United were particularly good from long range, with Michael Gardyne and Mark Millar also testing Langfield from the edge of the
area. When it came, the opener wasn’t a long-range effort but a beautifully executed goal from close in that came when Johnny Russell picked the ball up down the left and shimmied past Mark Reynolds as if he wasn’t there before unleashing a shot straight at Langfield. It was an effort that the Aberdeen keeper was always likely to save, but when the ball bounced back it was right into the path of John Rankin, who instinctively stuck out a foot to steer the ball into the net.
United continued to be the busier and more effective of the two sides, with Willo Flood’s tireless running providing the engine and the trio of Armstrong, Rankin and Russell growing in menace. Armstrong in particular was outstanding, twice deploying trickery and raw pace to skip around Isaac Osbourne.
Clear-cut chances were in short supply, however, until Aberdeen finally got an effort on target ten minutes before half-time. Osbourne’s inspired ball down the line found Niall McGinn, whose cross was met by Scott Vernon at the near post only for the striker to see Radoslaw Cierzniak get down smartly to stop the ball going into the bottom corner.
That was the cue for a flurry of near misses as the game reached boiling point. Only a superb
Russell Anderson tackle stopped Russell making it 2-0 after a gorgeous through-ball from Armstrong, then Millar cleared Anderson’s header off the line from a corner, the half ending with Langfield throwing himself to his left to stop a scudding shot from the edge of the penalty area by Rankin.
Perhaps it took Aberdeen much of the first half to recover from a difficult journey, or maybe Craig Brown unleashed his hairdryer during the interval, but the Dons side which took the field in the second half was a completely different proposition to the unit that had been second best throughout the first period.
That much became clear seconds after the restart when the combative Ryan Fraser blasted a shot just wide, and was confirmed two minutes later when only a superb flying save from Cierzniak stopped a driven shot from the edge of the penalty area by McGinn. Yet Aberdeen would not be denied, and seven minutes after the break they were back on level terms when Anderson flicked on Fraser’s corner and McGinn touched it in at the back post.
Aberdeen were now in the ascendancy but it was by no means all one-way traffic. Langfield did well to save on the line from Keith Watson, and both Gardyne and Russell were on target with two stinging long-range shots, but the best chance of them all fell to Vernon halfway through the half when the Dons striker was one-on-one with Cierzniak, only to completely miscue.
Not that the visitors were alone in spurning gilt-edged chances. With less than five minutes remaining, Rankin found himself clean through on the left side of the penalty box, only to lamely knock the ball just past the far post in an effort that was neither shot nor cross, which ensured that this highly entertaining game ended with honours even.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Dillon, Gunning, Watson, Flood, Rankin, Millar, Armstrong, Russell, Daly, Gardyne. Subs: Banks, McLean, Vignal, Ryan, Gauld, Dow, Hilson
Aberdeen: Langfield, Robertson, Anderson, Reynolds, Rae, Clark, McGinn, Osbourne, Hughes, Fraser, Vernon. Subs: Rogers, Shaughnessy, Milsom, Hayes, Brown, Magennis, Smith