Mark Warburton laid the blame for his team’s dramatic defeat at Pittodrie firmly at the door of referee John Beaton as Rangers slipped into the bottom half of the Premiership.
Aberdeen moved back into what has become their familiar territory in Celtic’s slipstream at the top of the table when James Maddison’s stunning 90th minute free-kick earned them all three points.
Warburton was left indignant at the contentious award of the set piece by Beaton, who judged Rangers full-back James Tavernier, pictured, to have fouled Aberdeen winger Jonny Hayes. According to Warburton, even fourth official Don Robertson agreed with his view that Tavernier had connected cleanly with the ball.
“I will be careful what I say about the free-kick,” said Warburton. “But everyone saw the ball move. The fourth official on the sidelines saw the ball move and made a comment. He didn’t think it was a free-kick.
“It was an outstanding tackle. Yet a free-kick is given. You have got to be 100 per cent sure about decisions in these type of games, in those areas of the pitch. If that had been in the box, would it have been a penalty? I thought the referee handled a difficult game very well. He did a good job up to that point, but to give that one there is frustrating beyond belief.”
Warburton felt the outcome was harsh on Rangers, who fell behind when Hayes scored just 24 seconds into the second half before equalising through Andy Halliday’s 79th minute penalty.
“We would have been frustrated even to draw 1-1,” he added. “I am never happy to drop a point, never mind three. But we moved to the next level today as a team and we are getting better.
“The boys are settling in and we were delighted with long periods of that game where we dominated.”
But Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes pointedly countered Warburton’s view of proceedings, insisting the Dons had been superior in the most significant aspects of the game and also dismissing his complaint about the free-kick.
“Tavernier got himself in a bad position,” said McInnes. “He then has to tackle and it was a wee bit desperate from behind. My first thought was that it was a free-kick.
“When you go to ground, like Jonny Hayes did when he conceded the penalty to them, you’re playing with fire. There were a lot of challenges I wasn’t too pleased with today that we didn’t get. Because that one has been compounded with our winning goal, then I can understand why they’re more upset.
“There’s no doubting that the moment of real quality from James Maddison should be applauded. The game is about scoring goals and we scored two very good goals. That’s why we deserved to win the game, no question.
“I was annoyed with our first-half performance. We were half-cock and let Rangers enjoy the game far too much. Our pressing was far better in the second half. Rangers still had a lot of possession but it was all in front of us. We were the team that carried most threat at getting towards goal.”