KILMARNOCK 1 Nish 67
ABERDEEN 3 Zdrilic 2, Tosh 15, Booth 47
IT WAS Prime Minister Jim Callaghan who famously never said "crisis? What crisis?" during a slump in the nation’s fortunes. After a week of headlines predicting doom and demise at Pittodrie, Aberdeen manager Steve Paterson might well be forgiven for echoing those words this morning.
Indeed, it took just 14 minutes of this one-sided match for Paterson to know that his immediate crisis was over and that his job was safe at least for another week. By that early juncture, Aberdeen were two-up and cruising, and despite a second-half rally by Kilmarnock, the visitors never looked likely to surrender any points.
There had been speculation - immediately stamped on by both clubs, it has to be said - that Jim Jefferies might replace his opposite number at Pittodrie, so Paterson will have been happy to put one over on the Kilmarnock boss in such emphatic style. For much of this match there was a gulf in class and effort between these two sides, and it was Aberdeen who claimed superiority early and hung on to it.
It took them just two minutes to open the scoring. The visitors started as if they had a point to prove and charged forward into attack from the whistle. Scott Booth made space for himself on the left wing, cut inside the cover and sent an inch-perfect cross over to his fellow striker David Zdrilic, whose finish was precise and gave Francois Dubourdeau in the Kilmarnock goal no chance of a save.
It was clinical stuff by the two Aberdeen front men, but the Kilmarnock defence must ask serious questions of itself both about that goal and the one which followed in 14 minutes. After Kris Boyd had somehow managed to misdirect a header back across David Preece’s goal instead of into it, Aberdeen took control for a prolonged spell which ended with Steve Tosh simply waltzing through the defence.
The Kilmarnock players stood back in seeming admiration as the midfielder picked his spot and calmly stroked the ball behind Dubourdeau, as easily as if he was holing a putt from two feet to win his golf club’s monthly medal.
Two down and playing football the way a fish rides a bicycle, Kilmarnock were in total disarray. Nominally playing a 3-5-2 formation, such was the directness of Aberdeen’s opening salvoes that the home side looked to be in permanent 5-3-2 mode.
It could have become very embarrassing before the half-hour mark. In 21 minutes, Martin Hardie swung in a cross which was only partially cleared to David Szdrilic, whose fierce volley took the paint of Dubourdeau’s crossbar.
Kevin McNaughton really deserved a goal for his 29th-minute effort. Lurking out on the right win, he snapped up yet another misdirected Kilmarnock clearance and swayed on to his left foot before sending in a glorious curling shot that just evaded the corner high to Dubourdeau’s right hand.
The best chance of the half for Kilmarnock fell to Danny Invincibile in 38 minutes, but the Australian’s direct run ended with a weak toe poke. Paul Sheerin might have made it three just before half time but he, too, failed to hit the target.
At half time the home fans could at least take some comfort with the famous Killie pies. Not content to rest on their laurels, the award-winning Brownings Bakery have brought out a new improved Killie pie with a filling involving only the best steak and a "secret gravy recipe," according to their publicist.
Good for Brownings - investing and developing when you are ahead of the game is a business lesson most SPL clubs could usefully learn. The new Killie pie was indeed full of tasty steak. The Kilmarnock performance on the park, however, remained pure mince.
Within two minutes of the restart, Aberdeen went further ahead. Steve Tosh took his time after breaking into the box on the right and his low cross was precisely struck to the feet of the in-rushing Booth who was left with a simple job of tapping the ball home. A goodly number of Kilmarnock fans promptly left the ground. The fare being served up by their side was clearly too tasteless. They should have remembered that even the best pies sometimes have gristle in them.
For after a quick re-organisation and a couple of inspired substitutions by Jefferies - Colin Nish and the crowd-pleasing Stevie Murray replacing the ineffective Greg Shields and James Fowler - Kilmarnock began to tough it out.
Caution was thrown to the winds as they poured forward. They could do little else as they were facing a hammering and their gutsy performance in the last third of the match may have gone some way to mollifying the home support in the 6,000 crowd.
Nish immediately made an impact, climbing to head goalwards in the 63rd minute, though Preece saved his effort comfortably enough. The goalkeeper could do nothing about the gangly striker’s next effort in the 67th minute, though, Preece having become stranded when Freddie Dindeleux’s header fell to Nish who forced the ball home from a few yards out.
Aberdeen decided to defend their lead at this point and might well have paid the penalty for doing so, but a combination of woeful finishing and an inability to penetrate a packed defence with anything resembling a telling pass meant that it was all huff and puff and no reward for the home side.
They could not even score when at least three players had the ball at their feet in a late goalmouth scramble. And, indeed, Szdrilic and Hardie might have put Aberdeen out of sight if their breakaway efforts had succeeded.
No further goals came, however, and at the end it was the small but vocal travelling support who went north rejoicing and no doubt heaving sighs of relief that their team had at last appeared to click.