DEREK McInnes’s one complaint about the League Cup is that, unlike the Scottish Cup, the scheduling of the competition means there is less time to enjoy winning it, although the Pittodrie club have done their best to mark the achievement during “term time”.
Aberdeen 1 - 1 Dundee United
SCORERS: Aberdeen; McGinn (52), Dundee United; Paton (6)
Naturally, there was still plenty of coverage in Saturday’s matchday programme of the big day against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, as well as the victory parade down Union Street a week later. But in this, their third game since the success, Aberdeen continued an unbeaten run which now stands at seven as McInnes’s side came from behind to secure a point in an enjoyable north-east derby.
Aberdeen have managed to avoid any discernible drop in intensity although they are still finding goals hard to come by. Since that splurge in the 4-0 League Cup semi-final win over St Johnstone, they have turned scoring just one goal in a match into an art form – this was the sixth time they have done so in their last ten matches.
Of course, they did not have to score from open play to earn that famous League Cup win. However, it would make things easier for them if the goals were flowing more liberally while at the same time making it slightly more exciting for the supporters enticed back by the trophy success.
It is just as well, then, that it is possible Niall McGinn has found his goalscoring touch again after a 19-game drought, including international appearances. Deployed in a more central position on Saturday, he looks to be back to something like his old self. McInnes is having to cope without two of his most creative players in Jonny Hayes and Peter Pawlett, which perhaps partly explains the low number of goals scored recently. Not that Aberdeen failed to create openings on Saturday.
After weathering the early storm resulting from the energetic start made by the visitors, Aberdeen settled and possibly should have taken all three points. They hit a post (McGinn again) and were prompted in their efforts by the impressive Barry Robson in midfield. He constantly looked to play players in, sometimes via little dinks, other times with long, searching balls that seemed to fall into the path of their targets as if guided by a radar homing device.
Robson created Aberdeen’s equaliser six minutes into the second half after he had himself taken a throw-in. On receiving the ball back again, he took a touch and then swung an angled cross into the box. McGinn stooped to head the ball in.
The celebrations were so excessive that someone quipped that an open-topped bus might be required to come out of service again. The eagerness with which McGinn’s team-mates wanted to share his delight shows both his popularity and how central he is to Aberdeen’s ambitions.
“You saw the way his team-mates celebrated for him and with him – and you see the way the crowd reacted,” said McInnes. “He is a very popular boy in our dressing room and very popular within the support. And as much as I say he has still been contributing, he is a boy who backs himself to score goals, in whatever position he is playing. It does weigh heavily on their minds. Goals are like drugs to these boys.”
A McGinn in the form of last season, when he scored 21 goals, would certainly help Aberdeen in their bid to win a second major trophy this season. It is not as if his form has been completely wretched – he is now in double figures for the season. But if Pawlett really is ready to return from injury in Edinburgh, – either in Wednesday’s trip to Hearts, or next Monday’s to Hibs – then it will be a further boost to know that McGinn’s confidence in front of goal is returning, as Aberdeen look to cement themselves in second position.
As far as United manager Jackie McNamara is concerned, the chase for second place is still on. The Tannadice side are still in fourth place and remain five points behind Aberdeen, who have a game in hand. It would have been a far different picture had they managed to hold on to the early lead given to them by Paul Paton, who steered a well-placed drive wide of Jamie Langfield after only nine minutes. It was another reminder that danger is not only posed by those cast as the creative outlets in the United team, such as Gary Mackay-Steven and Ryan Gauld.
Paton and John Rankin were immense. Both might tire of being described as performing in the engine room for United, but this is what they do – they feed the furnace, and their side’s hopes stand and fall on their contributions. Paton and Rankin threw themselves in the way of shots and were central to United emerging with a result from such a difficult assignment. And Brian Graham was in no doubt that their point was a productive one, despite United’s need to pin back Aberdeen.
“There are still a few games to go,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we needed to win – this is a hard place to come. We got a good point. We will go down the road and be happy with the point.”
The healthy crowd and competitive contest prompted more than a few memories of clashes between these teams when more than just second place was at stake. The fact they have avoided each other in the Scottish Cup semi-finals means another high-octane encounter could be imminent. “You look at the crowd today and it shows both sets of fans have turned up in their numbers,” said Graham. “It is great when you come out and see that – it gives you extra energy when you hear the crowd and long may it continue.”
The fare served up certainly augurs well for the last meeting between these two teams this season. Or might we yet have two more to enjoy?