SELDOM has there been a greater example of how much teams need their talisman to be firing on all cylinders. Bayern Munich 4 Barcelona 0. Half-fit Lionel Messi disappears from the game, Barca struggle. Aberdeen may be on a different level from the lofty heights that brilliant Barça have hit in recent years but the same theory applies.
Scorer: Aberdeen - McGinn 4
Without Niall McGinn, Aberdeen are a pale shadow of the team they are when he is on his game. That is why he is a front-runner for SPFA Player of the Year and why Aberdeen must fight their corner to keep him at the club in the summer.
“We are obviously really biased at Aberdeen about Niall,” admitted Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes. “But anyone looking in from the outside can see what an impact he has made. We don’t have a side that is free-flowing with goals and the onus is very heavily on Niall to get them.
“It’s the same at Hibs with Leigh Griffiths, Motherwell with Michael Higdon and Inverness with Billy McKay. They are all hugely important players and Niall showed that again. His quality for the winning goal was fit to grace any pitch.
“There is absolutely no doubt he deserves his nomination as potential Player of the Year and we hope he wins it.”
Aberdeen won this game and deservedly so but it was far from a classic. If only they could have taken a leaf out of the book of the copywriters of their club sponsors Team Recruitment.
In a stunning display of razor-sharp wit, they penned a full-page advert showing shamed Liverpool star Luis Suarez under the phrase: “After A Job You Can Really Sink Your Teeth Into?”
Thankfully there was no biting to report at Pittodrie. Sadly, however, there was very little bite from either side in a dull opening period. This had “end-of-season” and “meaningless” written all over it. Even the arrival of McInnes in the Aberdeen technical area, in place of retired boss Craig Brown, did little to inspire the home crowd.
It is absolutely clear, Aberdeen fans can’t see the back of this season soon enough. Bring on the summer, give McInnes the cash to revamp his squad and Aberdeen may, just may, be a much greater force next term.
Any reshuffle, of course, should be on the condition that McGinn remains at Aberdeen next term. Without him this Dons side would have been pitting their wits against Dundee in a relegation dogfight.
By 3.03pm yesterday, he had netted 19 SPL goals, just one short of the 20-goal haul notched by the rest of the Aberdeen squad put together. And his opening goal was, once again, a thing of real beauty.
The Northern Ireland star picked up the ball on the edge of the penalty box before dribbling his way passed Ross Barbour. He nutmegged Barbour and turned him inside out to find space to curl into the top corner of the net from 15 yards. It was a goal fit to win any game and for long spells, in a game that offered so little, it looked like it would be the only strike.
McGinn, however, was intent on causing further damage and Kilmarnock keeper Cammy Bell had to be alert to get down and make a crucial stop to turn away the Aberdeen star’s free-kick in the second half.
He then produced a string of saves to deny Ryan Jack and Josh Magennis with Kilmarnock struggling to get it together at the other end to draw level.
“People keep saying to me that Cammy made fantastic saves but did he?” said Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels. “Am I blind or something? I didn’t see them.
“The kind of saves he made today should be meat and drink to a keeper of his quality.
“I am pleased with my side. I have a lot of young players in it and they are showing how brave they are. Yes they will make mistakes but what is the point of putting them up in the stand? They will only ever learn by being out there on the park.”