THE sight of several Aberdeen players holding their head in their hands in frustration when referee Steven McLean blew his final whistle after five minutes of time added on told its own story.
Scorers: Motherwell - McManus (47), Francis-Angol (69); Aberdeen - Rooney (67), Anderson (90)
Despite the visitors using these extra minutes to score the goal from Russell Anderson that secured a hard-fought point, they still seemed to be anguished by the failure to claim victory.
Not only did they leave it late, but Aberdeen were also required to respond after going behind on two occasions – the second time just a couple of minutes after they had managed to equalise. However, perhaps the most deflating experience of all was seeing Ryan Jack crumple to the turf early in the game after a strong challenge from behind by Shaun Hutchinson.
The Motherwell centre-half’s reputation precedes him, but this was a tackle that Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes certainly felt was unnecessarily reckless and deserved to be condemned. And yet still Aberdeen put their shoulder to the wheel and ground out a result that could and perhaps should have been even better than it was.
It says much for the turnaround in fortunes sparked by McInnes that you could sense a certain disappointment within the Aberdeen camp, and not all of this stemmed from what cruel fate had served up for Jack. Of course, the midfielder’s injury was enough in itself to place a pall over the day, particularly with the eagerly awaited League Cup semi-final with St Johnstone at Tynecastle now only days away.
McInnes has on several occasions dismissed the idea that this clash of second versus third was an “inconvenience” in light of the cup game, with Aberdeen’s thirst for cup glory now reaching the stage where it could be described as a fetish. New signing Adam Rooney has already become well versed in why it has become such a preoccupation among those with the club at heart.
Of course, reporters don’t help. We go on about Aberdeen’s trophy famine as much as the supporters.
“Do you know how long it is since Aberdeen lifted a cup?” Rooney was asked in a corridor at Fir Park after the final whistle. “I know now!” he replied. He added that it feels as though he has been asked about it in every interview he has done since arriving at Aberdeen from Oldham Athletic last week.
“This is the second time I have been asked about it in the past five minutes,” he added. The Irishman did little harm to his own chances of featuring in Saturday’s tie after stepping straight into the side to score a goal on his debut. However, despite what appeared to be a fairly successful first outing, here once again was an Aberdeen player not entirely happy with what the day had delivered. He lamented not having scored twice.
“It’s obviously nice to score on your debut,” he said. “I can’t have asked for an easier one – two yards [out]. I hope I get them every week.”
Rooney benefitted from Motherwell goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen’s failure to deal with Niall McGinn’s powerfully struck shot. To be fair to Nielsen, as well as packing a punch the effort did look to have moved considerably in the air. But Rooney did exactly what McInnes has signed him to do, taking full advantage of Nielsen’s inability to gather the ball by heading the rebound over the line. Rooney might also have given Aberdeen longer to source a winner when passing up a tremendous chance to make it 2-2 with 20 minutes to go. He managed to bring Peter Pawlett’s ball into the box down cleverly enough, but could not supply the finish required and instead scooped his attempt over the bar.
“I was disappointed – I took it on my chest and it just would not come down quick enough,” he reflected. “It came off my shin if anything. Another half an inch and it might have been different.”
For a game that had looked in doubt 90 minutes before kick-off, there was plenty to enthuse about. McInnes’s cup hopes might have been better served by a postponement since it would have given Aberdeen longer to prepare for Saturday – and Jack would not have sustained the serious hip injury that he did.
However, the Aberdeen manager sounded sincere when he said afterwards that he wanted the game to go ahead. Stephen McManus opened the scoring with a bullet header in 47 minutes after a goal-less first half. As the rain swept over Fir Park again, both sets of players deserve to be applauded for providing some fine entertainment. Shortly after Rooney’s equaliser, Motherwell manager Stuart McCall swapped James McFadden for Henri Anier.
It was a decision that McFadden was clearly unhappy about. However, Anier made an immediate impact, supplying the cross that would lead to Zaine Francis-Angol and John Sutton arguing long into the night over who had applied the final touch as they raced in to bundle the ball over the line.
The consensus seemed to be that it was probably Angol, but no-one is going to convince Sutton he did not score his 12th goal of the season. Likewise, few will persuade Motherwell fans that Anderson had not used his hand to nudge the ball over the line for the equaliser in the dying moments.