The stubborn refusal of Aberdeen’s players and manager to endorse several pundits’ predictions of them mounting a title challenge to Celtic this season looks entirely sensible in the wake of their comprehesive opening-day defeat.
Dundee United won at Pittodrie for the first time since Craig Levein was in charge of the side back in October 2009 and after taking just one point from four meetings with their rivals from the north-east last term.
They were quite simply devastating on the counter-attack, just as they had been at times last season, but there were signs that this time they can finally launch those raids from a solid base.
Too often in the past manager Jackie McNamara saw his team’s flamboyant play undermined by poor defending, something that was totally unacceptable for someone so accomplished a stopper during an illustrious playing career.
He certainly must have feared the worst when David Goodwillie, with a point to prove after a disappointing loan spell back at Dundee United last season, was prefered to Adam Rooney up front for Aberdeen.
In reality, there was nothing much to worry about, however, with newcomers Jaroslaw Fojut, Callum Morris and Conor Townsend outstanding as the home side struggled to test goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak.
Morris, brought in from Dunfermline, and Fojut, signed from Tromso, were superb throughout in central defence while Conor Townsend showed he can be so much more than a makeweight at left back in the deal that took Andrew Robertson to Hull City.
That gave Dundee United the perfect platform to launch their customary attacking raids that brought first-half goals for Ryan Dow and Gary Mackay-Steven, and an injury-time one from substitute Chris Erskine.
Much as McNamara was thrilled with the quality of those goals, the fact his defensive set-up started so impressively was a particular source of pride for the Dundee United manager.
He admitted: “As an ex-defender myself I was really pleased with the clean sheet. It’s something we felt we needed to address from last season as we had the attacking force going forward with pace and power but the other side was a worry in open play and set pieces.
“Certain other teams punished us on that last season but I thought we looked really solid and a real threat in the opposition box which was important, so I am delighted.”
That said, there was a slice of good fortune about their opener in 29 minutes as Ashton Taylor, in for suspended captain Russell Anderson, was not so reliable when pressurised by Nadir Ciftci.
The former Tranmere Rovers centre-back tried to escape with a passback to Jamie Langfield but failed to spot a lurking Ryan Dow who gathered the ball, cooly rounded the goalkeeper before squeezing his shot in from a tight angle.
McNamara’s side enjoyed another slice of luck in 43 minutes after Cierzniak flapped at a Barry Robson cross and was relieved to see McGinn volley the loose ball against his right-hand post. There was nothing fortunate about Dundee United’s second on the stroke of half time though as Aberdeen were picked off with a wonderful counterattack, started when Paul Paton fed Ciftci in midfield.
The Turk nonchalantly clipped a delightful pass with the outside of his right foot into the path of a speeding Gary Mackay-Steven who left Andrew Considine leaden-footed before beating Langfield with just enough power to get the ball over the line.
It was no surprise to see Rooney introduced from the start of the second half for Barry Robson, who struggled through the opening period after an early injury and head cut.
Equally predictable was the way Aberdeen pushed the pace of the game to even greater heights but fortune continued to favour Dundee United as Pawlett’s net-bound flick was cleared off the line by Townsend.
Keith Watson and Paton were booked for halting the midfielder with less orthodox methods but United continued to look dangerous in attack themselves as the game inevitably became stretched.
Ciftci twice, then Mackay-Steven, went close to increasing their lead but what most seemed to cheer the large travelling support in the second half was Goodwillie’s performance.
First he took a fresh-air swipe at the ball after Pawlett’s dazzling run from half way and penetrating cross, then headed wide from close range in stoppage time. There was still enough time for their joy to intensify as with virtually the last kick of the ball as Mario Bilate showed real composure to create the opening for fellow substitute Chris Erskine to really rub it in with the third.
It meant the Aberdeen players departed to the jeers of supporters who had cheered them so enthusiastically in defeat against Real Sociedad in the Europa League just a few days previously. That seemed excessive and their manager, Derek McInnes, made it clear afterwards that if anyone was to blame for the lacklustre showing then the responsibility rested with him.
The Dons just missed out on second place last season, yet amazingly no team scored fewer home goals than them in the Premiership during that campaign but he doesn’t fear a repeat.
Instead McInnes blames the fatigue caused by chasing the game against the Spaniards for falling flat on the first day of the domestic seasons and said: “The biggest knock is we didn’t get the start we wanted.
“It’s important to note that these sort of performances have been few and far between and if you analyse it then there is maybe a reason for a display that never had the same energy as we normally have.
“No one should underestimate how much was put into the performance against Sociedad on Thursday and I think that was evident. We huffed and puffed to be honest. There was a couple of penalty claims and balls bouncing about but chances we lashed at showed a lack of conviction about us in the last third.
“We just looked a wee bit leg weary and I take my share of the responsibility for that for the team picked.”
Aberdeen: Langfield, Logan, Taylor, Reynolds, Considine (Low 81), McGinn, Flood, Jack, Robson (Rooney 46), Pawlett, Goodwillie. Subs not used: Monakana, Smith, Clark Robertson, Brown, Shaughnessy.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, Fojut, Morris, Townsend, Dow, Armstrong (Erskine 54), Paton, Rankin, Mackay-Steven (Bilate 73), Ciftci (Telfer 82). Subs not used: Graham, McCallum, Scott, Smith, Spittal.