HAVING very little to play for in the league table and with a Scottish Cup final coming up, St Johnstone would have been forgiven for turning up at Pittodrie merely to make up the numbers. Instead they turned in a gritty and dogged performance that had Aberdeen sweating for the point that inches them closer to securing second place in the table.
Scorers: Aberdeen - Rooney (31); St Jonstone - May (8)
Bookings: Aberdeen - Anderson; St Johnstone - Dunne, Wotherspoon, Cregg
Saints put McInnes in a sweat over second spot
A draw could have been disastrous for the home side prior to the game, but after going behind to an early Stevie May goal and seeing runners-up rivals Motherwell hammered at Tannadice, they finished the day as overwhelming favourites to secure the “best of the rest” tag.
Yet the bottom line was one of the few positives in a frustrating day for the hosts.
“There’s a level of quality that separates sides at this end of the table and I don’t think we had that today,” said manager Derek McInnes. “We responded well though, and showed plenty of quality and endeavour. There was just that lack of quality that we’ve shown all season to be in this position. I think we had seven shots on target but we never carved out much.”
In fairness to McInnes’s side, any number of teams would have struggled to break down the stubborn approach of their opponents. Behind May in the Saints 4-1-4-1 was a central midfield triumvirate of Patrick Cregg, James Dunne and Chris Millar, stationed there to nullify Peter Pawlett and restrict Aberdeen’s ability to pass through the centre. It forced the hosts into using their patient passing style in the opening exchanges, which indirectly led to the opening goal.
Clark Robertson, making his first appearance since 30 October, can blame being a little rusty on his failure to spot May as he tried to go directly back to Jamie Langfield. May intercepted the pass, advanced on the goalkeeper and coolly stroked the ball into the net. It was the striker’s 27th goal of the season and arrived in a week when the club revealed they are discussing a new deal with the exciting talent.
“We had a meeting yesterday and things are pretty close,” said manager Tommy Wright after the game. “It makes it so much easier when players say they want to stay. Of course, with any deal, I’ll not be happy until it’s 100 per cent.
“I thought about resting him today, but with his goals he’s just so important to us, and also his energy as well. That’s something that pleases me about the whole team.
“Their fitness levels are great for this time in the season. I wondered if the cup final was going to distract them because we had the measurements for our suits this week, but these lads just have that ability to switch it on when they get on the park. I thought a point was a fair result today.”
They might have held out for all three had they managed to make it to half-time with the lead intact.
Aberdeen responded well to going behind with Niall McGinn and Russell Anderson both testing the reflexes of Alan Mannus within ten minutes of each other, though the only clear-cut chance that came the way of the hosts arrived via a St Johnstone boot.
Millar failed to heed the danger of Robertson’s earlier error as his attempted passback to Mannus was intercepted by Adam Rooney, who rounded the goalkeeper and tapped into the empty net.
Two minutes later, Aberdeen were almost ahead. Johnny Hayes’ whipped cross from the right was about to dip in under the crossbar before Mannus pulled off an acrobatic one-handed stop.
Sensing that his side still lacked the ability to penetrate, McInnes brought on Barry Robson in the hope that the midfielder’s passing range could pick the Saints lock.
The veteran tried his best but the second half was a bit of a non-event – Aberdeen tried to stroke the ball around while St Johnstone succeeded in making the game hard for them.
The game was petering out to an inevitable conclusion before the three points were nearly won through another incredible error.
Again it was a passback that caused the problems. Mark Reynolds’s ball to Langfield actually found his team-mate, but he could only watch on in horror as the ’keeper allowed the ball to roll under his foot and slither an inch wide of the post.
From the resulting corner Frazer Wright almost became the hero after rising highest to glance a header wide of the goal from six yards out.
The late drama continued at the other end when Robson’s ball from deep found the chest of Hayes inside the area. The winger controlled and pulled off an overhead kick, only for his effort to be stopped by a one-handed save by Mannus, who held on to help secure the point.