Aberdeen went into a clear second place in the SPFL Premiership last night, albeit 13 points behind Celtic, thanks to a dominant second half against a plucky Kilmarnock.
SCORERS: Reynolds 83′
The only goal came late on and was simplicity itself, Mark Reynolds connecting to a Niall McGinn corner and burying the ball behind an unlucky Craig Samson.
Only seconds earlier, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper had pulled off a top-class save at point-blank range from Peter Pawlett, but the resultant corner proved to be Kilmarnock’s undoing.
The victory was possibly just about deserved on the basis of Aberdeen’s second-half performance which was far more direct and aggressive than in the first half which Kilmarnock could rightly claimed have to been theirs on moral grounds.
For they scored what looked to be a perfectly good goal through Kris Boyd after only 12 minutes, only for referee Craig Charleston to chalk it off. He quite harshly judged that Boyd had been too tough when robbing Russell Anderson to set up his chance which, it should be said, Boyd took with all his old aplomb, chipping over Jamie Langfield.
The visitors were again unlucky when Ryan Jack headed Barry Robson’s cross off the bar, just a minute later.
Boyd dispossessed Willo Flood, and this time the referee allowed him to play on, only for Langfield to keep the ball out with his legs.
It all added up to a frustrating start for Kilmarnock. Despite the rain that has drenched the west of Scotland, the pitch was in good nick, if sodden, but the snell wind did nobody any favours, and several players slipped which all added to the entertainment.
Aberdeen were unchanged from the side that beat Dundee United in midweek, with loan signing Michael Hector allegedly playing his last match before returning to Reading. His contribution has not gone unnoticed and he was cheered from the pitch at the end by the visiting support.
Kilmarnock’s young brigade was added to by 17-year-old Robbie Muirhead who made his first start, while Celtic loan signing Jackson Irvine succumbed to illness which put Sammy Clingan into midfield – and what a success he nearly proved to be.
The wind certainly affected the match, with Aberdeen trying to play “keep ball” to counter its effects. With their midfield trio of Willo Flood, Barry Robson and Peter Pawlett playing lots of triangular passes as they moved laterally across the field rather than go forward.
After the initial scares, Boyd got little change out of Anderson and Reynolds, and that was also true at the other end for Scott Vernon who was all but marked out of the game by Lee Ashcroft and Manuel Pascali.
Samson’s quick reactions foiled McGinn after 18 minutes, the goalkeeper racing 20 yards to block the Aberdeen talisman’s effort.
Outstanding in midfield for Kilmarnock was young Craig Slater. He really is improving with every match and his close control, adroit passing and determination to be involved in every phase of play was a joy to watch.
He started the move that put in Chris Johnston for a shot that just went over, but as the first half wore on, despite Slater’s efforts it seemed that a goalless draw was inevitable.
Hector came up from the back to let fly with a fierce low shot just on half-time, but Samson saved well down to his left.
Playing with the wind, though it swirled too much to be a definite asset, Aberdeen were much more direct from the off in the second period.
They pinned Kilmarnock back for long spells, though had Johnston evaded Anderson instead of being hauled back – the Aberdonian was yellow-carded – the visitors might have been behind.
Aberdeen continued to dominate, however, apart from a personal duel between Clingan and Langfield. Twice the Northern Irishman struck superb free kicks from 25 yards, the first after Anderson’s booking being a low curler which Langfield dived to save well, the second a right-foot dipper which the Aberdeen goalkeeper clawed away from under the crossbar.
Kilmarnock were warned about things to come when Pawlett stole the ball away from Pascali and crossed to McGinn whose goalbound shot was brilliantly saved by Samson.
His next save after 83 minutes conceded the corner from which Reynolds scored what proved to be a winner.
There were then a couple of moments of madness by two substitutes. Michael Gardyne came on for Rory McKenzie with five minutes left and fouled McGinn immediately to earn a booking.
Nicky Low had been on a bit longer when, in injury time, he scythed down Sean Clohessy and was shown a straight red. It was too late to affect the outcome, however.