THE rain came bucketing down in early morning in Motherwell, a downpour that put this clash of the Premiership’s second-place wannabes in jeopardy. Just as well they had enough pitchforks at Fir Park to prod the surface into a playable state, for this was a thumping affair between two sides that have a lot going for them at the moment.
That it ended in a draw was fair on the balance of play and chances, though Motherwell had legitimate gripes of being robbed of the victory because of the lateness, and scrappiness, not to mention illegality, of the equaliser. Russell Anderson’s effort came three minutes into added time and replays showed that he handled the ball before it eventually found its way past the nervy Motherwell goalkeeper, Gunnar Nielsen, after pinging about the six-yard box.
So we had goals and controversy and more excitement than we had a right to expect given the state of the pitch. In truth, neither side deserved to lose. The disagreements did not begin and end with the Aberdeen equaliser in the dying seconds. Earlier – the 12th minute – Ryan Jack was stretchered off after a heavy tackle from Shaun Hutchinson. Jack landed badly on his hip. Derek McInnes called it a reckless
challenge. Stuart McCall disagreed with his counterpart’s assessment, calling it a robust but fair tackle. Either way, Jack was suffering last night. McInnes wouldn’t speculate on whether he’ll be fit for the Dons’ League Cup semi-final next weekend.
After both of these sides were defeated last week they can be comforted by this, Aberdeen especially. They were behind twice and never gave up. Whatever these teams lack, they are not short on fighting spirit.
Aberdeen gave a (scoring) debut to Adam Rooney, the Irishman they clutched from England who is well known and highly regarded in Scotland. Rooney scored buckets of goals for Inverness in his years there, 21 in his final season in 2010-11 and 26 in the old First Division the season before that. This could prove to be a seriously astute piece of business by McInnes, the kind of capture that McCall could only dream about.
Rooney has spent the last three seasons in the Championship and in League One, first at Birmingham, then Swindon and most recently Oldham. He didn’t pull up any trees, but he didn’t do badly either. He’s 25 and he’s done it in this terrain before. McInnes can expect good things from him.
Motherwell opened the scoring early in the second half, a Lionel Ainsworth corner getting nutted home by Stephen McManus despite the best efforts of Peter Pawlett on the line. Pawlett’s job was a nigh on impossible one given the ferocity of McManus’s header and the paucity of Aberdeen’s marking.
McInnes must have been seething, not just at his defenders but at the gods. Jack had gone – it took several worrying minutes to get him on to the stretcher and away – and he’d also seen his team come close to scoring on a few occasions. True, James McFadden could have scored for Motherwell – his effort was weak and straight at Jamie Langfield – but Aberdeen had come closest. Barry Robson saw a shot come slapping back off a Motherwell post, after he’d robbed Stuart Carswell and let fly. Not long after Jonny Hayes forced a terrific save from Nielsen.
So to find themselves behind was a bitter blow. But in a game between two equally matched sides, the bad fortune balanced itself out before too long. The Dons had lost Jack and after 55 minutes, Motherwell lost Fraser Kerr, their important right-back, who was also stretchered off. As soon as Kerr had gone, Aberdeen started to have some joy down that side of the field. Hayes, in particular.
They got up a head of steam. Niall McGinn had a dangerous shot blocked down, then Hayes crossed for Joe Shaughnessy at the back post, only for the Irishman’s sclaffed effort to be cleared off the line by Hutchinson. Another Hayes cross brought more uncertainty in the home defence. Rooney was close but not close enough to turning it in.
This was akin to a boxing match now, Aberdeen pounding away looking for weakness and Motherwell hanging on and hoping for the pressure to peter out. Just after the hour, though, Aberdeen struck the blow they were looking for, McGinn’s shot parried unconvincingly by Neilsen into Rooney’s airspace. The striker stooped and headed his new team level.
They went at each other to the end, Henri Anier’s delicious cross was turned in by Zaine Francis-Angol – though John Sutton spent last night claiming he got the final touch – and Fir Park came alive again. The Dons pounded back and got their equaliser. It was a handball and it shouldn’t have been allowed but even McCall, impressively and to his credit, accepted that a point apiece was a fair result. The Motherwell manager called the game “pulsating”. The rivalry between these teams is certainly one of the great narratives of the season now.
Motherwell: Nielsen, Kerr (Lawson, 56), Hammell, Lasley, Hutchinson, McManus, Ainsworth (Leitch, 90), Carswell, McFadden (Anier, 68), Sutton, Francis-Angol.
Subs not used: Stewart, Moore, Murray, Thomas.
Goals: McManus 47; Francis-Angol 69.
Booked: K Lasley, S Carswell, S Hutchinson.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Shaughnessy, Considine, Flood, Anderson, Reynolds, Hayes, Jack (Pawlett, 12), McGinn, Rooney, Robson (Low, 62).
Subs not used: Weaver, Zola, Vernon, Magennis, Tate.
Goals: Rooney 67; Anderson 90.
Booked: A Rooney
Referee: S McLean