ABERDEEN can only be but admired. And that stands whatever happens when they visit Celtic Park in a week’s time; whatever unfolds in the remainder of the Premiership season.
Scorers: Aberdeen - Rooney 21, 48; Reynolds 66′
When Derek McInnes’s side conceded a late goal to lose at home to Celtic in the second week of November, most assumed that even the pretence of a title race was lost.
Instead, as they did yesterday to power their way to victory at home to St Mirren, they have kept going, and kept going. In the process they have cultivated a superb sequence of league form – 10 goals without reply in their past three games alone – that has allowed them to sit joint top of the summit with Celtic – at least until Ronny Deila’s side play one of their two games in hand at home to Hamilton Accies this afternoon.
The 13 games they are unbeaten since that Celtic reverse is their longest unbeaten run since 1992-92 when they went 15 matches without defeat. With 11 of these games won, they have amassed 35 points from a possible 39. This just does not happen in Scottish football for teams stationed outside of Glasgow. Indeed, over the same three-month period, Celtic have surrendered five points.
Yesterday, it was easy to see why they have been so effective, even if they were helped by entirely ineffectual opponents. St Mirren played as if waiting for the bitter end to arrive. It did in the form of a defeat that leaves them in the relegation play-off place.
Their appetite for attacking, the rhythm with which they swept forward and stretched St Mirren, meant McInnes’s men would have brushed aside better teams than the opponents they happened to face yesterday. In taking his tally for the season to a remarkable 23, Adam Rooney provided the pay-off for the bullish play his team-mates produced. Afterwards, though, he wasn’t for cashing in with big predictions about his team’s encounter at Celtic Park next week. He wouldn’t countenance suggestions that Aberdeen might be helped by the fact that Celtic will be in Milan on Thursday night for the second leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.
“We’ll just look after ourselves. We can’t focus too much on what they do,” he said. “We’ll just do what we do every week in training – focus on our game. If we play the way we can, we know we’re capable of beating anyone. We just have to make sure our own performance is there.” His has been this season, with the striker meeting every target he has set himself in achieving double figures by Christmas and breaking 20. “I’ll tell you what the next target is after I do it,” he said.
The targets being met by Aberdeen bring intrigue to the top end of a Scottish top flight we simply could not have imagined. More than that, the Pittodrie side have ensured that there is a credible look to the leading places and have kept it close in a manner that hasn’t happened half the time in this Millennium, even with Rangers in the top tier.
Just because there used to be two huge Glasgow sides, it didn’t mean there were always title races. Martin O’Neill’s Celtic walked three titles, his successor, Gordon Strachan, two, while Dick Advocaat and Walter Smith claimed championships largely unchallenged for Rangers.
Aberdeen have ensured that Celtic have had to step it up and so far the Parkhead side have shown the ability to do so.
Early on, Aberdeen hemmed in their visitors and it was only a matter of time before they unstitched their defence. St Mirren midfielder John McGinn grimly conceded as much in admitting his side could not match the “movement” or “calibre of player” the home side could call on from the bench.
In the face of such disparity, the surprise was that it took 22 minutes for Aberdeen to take the lead. The other surprise was that the win wasn’t absolutely guaranteed until two minutes after the interval. Rooney was the convertor on both occasions, which allowed him to quip that it was good his “goals counted” this week – a reference to the botches from officialdom that led to referee Willie Collum and his assistants failing to see an effort from the Irishman had crossed the line in the 3-0 success at Hamilton.
That incident was recalled yesterday when Stephen Mallan kicked away a header from Rooney when stationed between the posts. It didn’t prove a real talking point, though, because within seconds the same player had bundled the ball over after connecting with an Andrew Considine headed knock-on from a Peter Pawlett left-wing chip.
Rooney’s second was the product of a sharp turn and low drive from inside the six-yard box that the striker produced after he pounced on a Kenny McLean knock-down from a Niall McGinn cross. Mark Reynolds completed the scoring just after the hour when he nodded in from a McGinn corner.
By then it was the sort of one-sided, resounding victory that tends to be emblematic of those chasing the top honours. Aberdeen deserve to placed in that bracket.
Aberdeen: Brown; Logan, Daniels, Reynolds, Considine; Flood (Robson 84), Jack; Pawlett (Goodwillie 68), McLean, McGinn; Rooney (Shankland 78). Subs not used: Langfield, Smith, Robertson, Shaughnessy
St Mirren: Ridgers; Naismith, McAusland (Baird 53), Tesselaar, Kelly; Goodwin; Dayton, McClear (Wylde , Mallan, McGinn; Arquin. Subs not used: Kello, Thompson, Sonupe, Osbourne, Gow, Wylde.
Referee: Kevin Clancy. Attendance: 14,720
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS