INSEPARABLE for a full 120 minutes before penalties in the League Cup final, Inverness Caley Thistle and Aberdeen again drew a blank. Both sides had chances to win, but the hosts were left ruing the lion’s share passed up.
The usually deadly Billy McKay twice failed to score from good positions, while Greg Tansey saw Jamie Langfield pull off a marvellous touch onto the bar at close range.
Aberdeen saw Niall McGinn shake the cross bar in the first half, while the Irishman also fired straight at keeper Dean Brill late in a lively, riveting encounter.
With champions Celtic facing Motherwell at Fir Park today, both sides were eyeing the chance to close in on European aspirations.
The hosts’ need was arguably the greatest, with an eight-point chasm on Stuart McCall’s third-placed side. But the Dons, fresh from the trauma of exiting the Scottish Cup semi-finals to St Johnstone, also knew the stakes were high.
With that in mind, manager Derek McInnes handed ex-Caley Thistle winger Jonny Hayes a recall for the first time since injuring his collar bone in the League Cup final on March 16.
Caley Thistle were without the tigerish influence of both captain Richie Foran through injury and suspended vice-captain Graeme Shinnie.
Central defender Gary Warren took the armband for the evening. It proved a brisk, positive start from the hosts with the best opportunity amid early pressure materialising after seven minutes. Marley Watkins’ penetrating burst through Red defences drew a blatant tug from Dons’ skipper Russell Anderson. Referee Bobby Madden played advantage and McKay glided into space only to see his strike diverted for a corner by Langfield’s gloves. Anderson was fortunate to take a telling but not a yellow card.
The flow remained mostly in home favour with Greg Tansey’s lay-off to the left edge of the Aberdeen box teeing up Aaron Doran for a shot bent just over the bar. After 17 minutes, another home attack spoke of their burgeoning confidence. Carl Tremarco speared a long ball forward from the left back position, with Mckay rising to flick-on with his head. The home top scorer took a return pass from Doran but saw his 22-goal team-mate fluff wide of target.
Aberdeen forays, for long enough, were meek by comparison. One expertly-launched Shaleum Logan cross from the right after 20 minutes had Hayes rising determinedly at the back post. The Irishman’s downward header was easily smothered by keeper Dean Brill, before he fell awkwardly. Luckily for Hayes, there were no League Cup final-style repercussions from the tumble.
A Peter Pawlett foray weaved a path through blue defences, before a short lay-off saw Niall McGinn crack a 12-yard strike against the underside of the bar. The ball was scrambled clear but the Dons came again, with Brill smothering another Hayes’ attempt.
Almost on half-time, though, Doran presented Mckay with his second chance of the game, with Jamie Langfield sharp to shut down the frontman and force a corner.
As the second half began It was the hosts who went within a whisker of a dramatic opener after 52 minutes. Doran hung up a corner from the left perfectly for the incoming figure of Ross Draper and the big midfielder’s bulleted header from a front post angle almost brushed the top of the bar. At the other end, Warren made a hash of a clearance under pressure, gifting Aberdeen a corner. But from Barry Robson’s in-swinging delivery, the stand-in skipper made amends with a brave header to safety. Hayes was taken off after 63 minutes, with Cammy Smith the straight swap as McInnes’s side began to exert some sustained pressure.
Inverness boss John Hughes responded with the introduction of some fresh legs of his own with young talent Ryan Christie for the tiring James Vincent. Langfield’s second superb save after 68 minutes kept the scoreline level.
Watkins’ craft set up Tansey for a shot which the Aberdeen keeper reacted like lightening to touch onto the bar. On the rebound, Logan nicked in just in front of McKay to prevent another scoring chance. A long Christie punt then had Mckay slicing in from the right but his effort was easily gathered by Langfield.
The usually lethal Robson then fluffed a 25-yard free-kick painfully off-target before Christie’s craft and vision did send McKay away on the right channel but his angled shot lacked the venom to remotely fluster Langfield.
McGinn had a final chance to snatch a winner but Brill got down to save his low effort, and McInnes said afterwards: “I thought we were very comfortable and in control for long periods and played some very good stuff. The one thing that was doing my head in at times was our reluctance to shoot.”
Inverness CT: Brill; Raven, Warren, Meekings, Tremarco; Draper, Tansey; Watkins (Ross 80), Vincent (Christie 66), Doran; Mckay.
Aberdeen: Langfield; Logan, Anderson, Reynolds, Considine; Flood, Robson; Pawlett, McGinn, Hayes (Smith 63); Rooney (Zola 86).