Dundee United 0-2 Aberdeen: Dons neck-and-neck

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LONG after the final whistle last night, Adam Rooney’s surname echoed around Tannadice. Two of the simplest goals he will ever score punctuated a commanding performance by Aberdeen who easily inflicted on Dundee United their first home defeat of the season.

Scorers: Aberdeen - Rooney (19), (33)

Aberdeen's Peter Pawlett (left) battles with Stuart Armstrong. Picture: SNS

Aberdeen's Peter Pawlett (left) battles with Stuart Armstrong. Picture: SNS

Both of Rooney’s first-half strikes were converted from inside the six-yard box, but they took his tally for the campaign to 17, and although he couldn’t quite claim his third hat-trick since the summer, the Irish striker is proving to be a priceless asset for the Pittodrie club.

Not only has his double left them with the same points total as United, it has taken them to within one of second-placed Inverness and given their rivals the distinct impression that the best is yet to come. Even their two defeats – against Celtic and Dundee – in an otherwise flawless seven-match sequence, have arrived courtesy of last-minute winners.

Here, the sides were separated by much more than Rooney’s predatory instincts. In a one-sided first half, Aberdeen were rampant at times. They pressed their opponents for all they were worth, and could easily have scored more than two. It was payback time for United’s 3-0 victory at Pittodrie on the opening day of the season. “It was a terrific performance from start to finish, but we started really strongly,” said Derek McInnes, their manager, pictured. “We imposed ourselves on the game. We knocked United out of their stride a wee bit. We know they’re a good team, and if their better players are influential, they can cause any team problems so we knew we had a job to do.

“But we had some real good passages of play in that first half. We probably had as many crosses as we have had in any 45-minute period. We hit the bar, we hit the post, we scored a couple of goals. We were very strong.”

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Thereafter, Aberdeen were disciplined at the back, and dangerous on the break, which was all they needed to be. For security reasons, their fans were asked to stay behind at full-time, but they needn’t have bothered. The home support had long since disappeared from the premises.

It looked like being a bad day for United from the moment Niall McGinn’s early shot for Aberdeen spun off Paul Paton and against the crossbar. Aberdeen opened with intent, squeezing the game in such a way that their opponents looked tentative, but the error that gave them the lead was unforced. They had worked on the free kick, swung in by McGinn a split-second after Jonny Hayes had laid the ball down with both hands. So, too, was David Goodwillie’s header – directed goalwards from the edge of the box – part of their masterplan. What hadn’t been expected was the fumble by Radoslaw Cierzniak, after which Rooney nipped in to knock the loose ball into the net.

Aberdeen’s high defensive line invited United to respond with balls over the top, the best of which fell to Chris Erskine. In the absence of an offside flag, the United player strode on to Stuart Armstrong’s pass. His low shot was crisply-struck, but the advancing Scott Brown blocked with his body.

That, though, only briefly halted Aberdeen’s gathering momentum. Goodwillie was off balance when he sliced one wide. Then Peter Pawlett bundled into the channel, emerging from some half-hearted challenges to square a low ball, intercepted by the goalkeeper.

Their second goal was the product of more uncertainty in United’s defence. Hayes’ chip to the back post should never have travelled as far as Andy Considine, but when it did, the defender’s attempted shot fell to Rooney. From just a couple of yards, the striker turned it over the line.

Before this game, United had conceded only four goals at home this season, but their defence bordered on the hapless here. When nobody saw fit to deal with a cross by Pawlett, the ball fell to McGinn, whose thunderous diagonal shot crashed off the inside of his near post and across the six-yard area.

Already irked by the scoreline, one or two United players took exception to Pawlett. When he went down in the box after a trademark burst from midfield, John Rankin accused him of diving. Then the midfielder was booked for a challenge that left Paul Paton writhing on the turf. All of which only lightened the mood in the away end, where another big Aberdeen support loved every minute. There was a response from United, who replaced John Souttar with Callum Morris at the interval, but their newfound organisation led to no scoring opportunities. Rankin’s shot, blazed over the bar from the edge of the box, reflected the efforts to which the home team had been reduced.

While Aberdeen were not so impressive in the second half, they were always comfortable, and still the more incisive of the two teams. When Considine slipped a low ball behind the full-back, Goodwillie had the chance to score against his old club, but his left-foot shot fizzed over the bar. Goodwillie then demonstrated another side to his game by subtly setting up Pawlett, whose shot was deflected over by the goalkeeper.

“They were better than us,” admitted McNamara. “They are a good side when they get in front and they showed that. I’m disappointed we have lost our home record. We have a tough test at home to Celtic next week. We will have to defend better.”

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