Craig Brown has impatiently brushed aside questions concerning Aberdeen’s ability to sustain a challenge to Celtic for the SPL title but after this result Terry Butcher is the one who will have to get used to such enquiries.
This result, a fourth win in the last seven visits to Pittodrie, sent Inverness Caledonian Thistle soaring from fifth position to second place, their best ever at this stage of a campaign.
Only goal difference separates them and the defending champions they defeated at Parkhead just four days previously, although Neil Lennon’s side have the chance to extend that at Tynecastle tonight.
No matter, the Highlanders with a rebuilt side of players who are hardly household names in their own households, thoroughly merit the lofty position they now find themselves in. Defeat against Celtic, and two thumpings from Motherwell are the only losses they have sustained all season and no team has scored more goals than Butcher’s.
That attacking flair was particularly evident in a thrilling second half as they came from behind to defeat an Aberdeen side who blew the chance to move clear at the top themselves.
At least there was good news for the Dons before a ball was kicked as nearly £6 million will be wiped off the club’s debts courtesy of chairman Stewart Milne and Aberdeen Asset Management. They propose to convert loans of £3.7m and £2.25m respectively, into shares in the club, reducing the overall level of losses to a still not inconsiderable £10.82m.
What that will do in the short term is allow Brown to strengthen his squad still further in January with the addition of a striker the main priority.
On the evidence of last night they would appear to have decent depth already, as they were still able to put out a solid starting XI with no fewer than eight first team players sidelined through injury.
Brown’s resources were so denuded that Scott Vernon was pressed into a midfield role and young Irish midfielder Joe Shaughnessy made his first top team start.
The situation actually got worse with barely a third of this game gone as Chris Clark damaged his right leg when picking up a yellow card for fouling Aaron Dorran. Teenage midfielder Jamie Masson took over and was promptly involved in the controversial incident that culminated in Billy McKay edging Caley Thistle ahead in 36 minutes, against the run of play.
Nearly everyone in the stadium thought Owen Tudor Jones fouled Masson while wresting possession away from the youngster. Crucially, the match officials were in the minority.
Andrew Shinnie quickly took advantage of the home side’s distraction to send Dorran scampering clear down the right and his cross found McKay racing into the six yard box unopposed.
That maintained the Highlanders’ record of having scored in every game they have played this season – unfortunately for them they are nearly as reliable when it comes to letting them in at the other end.
Celtic provided one of the few exceptions last weekend but just when it looked as though Caley Thistle would reach the interval ahead, they surrendered a sloppy leveller in stoppage time.
It was appropriate that Josh Magennis should supply it as the Northern Ireland international’s powerful running had threatened to do just that a lot earlier in the evening.
In six minutes he burst through on the right side of the Caley Thistle penalty area, broke three feckless challenges then saw a relieved Antonio Reguero fall on ball more by accident than design.
Niall McGinn shot straight at the Spanish goalkeeper shortly afterwards while Rory Fallon and Scott Vernon were even more wayward with efforts as Aberdeen dominated only for their attempts to become ever more ragged.
It was impossible to tell if Butcher’s side were any better as, McKay’s goal apart, they looked incapable of creating a coherent attacking threat during an opening period that was as dismal as the conditions.
Aberdeen did finally click just when Inverness were contemplating an unlikely interval lead as Fallon saw his cross from the left blocked, Jonny Hayes retrieved possession and Magennis lashed the former Caley Thistle winger’s cutback in from six yards.
That was enough to persuade Brown to switch Magennis from playing wide right in midfield to straight-through-the-middle striker which reaped a rich reward.
We also had a switch of referees at the break as Alan Muir was injured and unable to continue, much to the delight of the home fans who had felt he had favoured the visitors.
Craig Charleston took over and dealt well with everything he was asked to do but it was the positional change instigated by Brown that made the biggest impression.
Within five minutes of the restart Aberdeen were in front as McGinn spun clear, threaded a delightful ball to send Magennis clear and he finished with aplomb, dinking a shot beyond the outrushing Rugeuro.
It was a moment of magic that finally ignited the sort of match worthy of the occasion with play raging from end-to-end, especially after Caley Thistle’s equaliser in 58m minutes.
That was simplicity itself as Dorran’s inswinging corner from the left invited exactly the sort of header Gary Warren sent thumping behind Jamie Langfield from inside the six yard box.
McGinn and Hayes went close for Aberdeen while Dorran and McKay caused anxiety at the other end before the latter edged Caley Thistle back in front with just eight minutes left.
That stemmed from an uncharacteristic mistake by Aberdeen captain Russell Anderson as he stretched and strained to head the ball clear under pressure. Instead he turned the ball back across his own penalty area, straight to a grateful McKay who took a touch before angling a shot wide of Langfield to clinch victory.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Anderson, Reynolds, Considine, Magennis, Shaughnessy, Clark (Masson 30), McGinn, Hayes (McManus 87), Fallon, Vernon, Masson (Smith 80). Subs not used: Jason Brown, Jordon Brown, Murray, O’Neill.
Inverness CT: Reguero, Raven, Meekings, Warren, G Shinnie, Doran, Tudur Jones, A Shinnie, Foran, Roberts (Draper 60), McKay. Subs not used: Mathieson, Oswell, Morrison, Polworth, Pepper, Cooper.