Aberdeen stoically overcame a Mark Reynolds red card and resultant opening goal to peg back Celtic’s Ladbrokes Premiership lead to just three points after Shay Logan’s decisive double.
Ross County topped and tailed a riveting Global Energy Stadium tussle with Ian McShane goals, but ultimately fell short against ten men, with controversy spiking first-half events.
Ahead of Celtic’s home tussle with Hamilton Accies tomorrow, the Dons did all they could to maintain pressure although it might have been very different had the Dingwall side been granted a powerful early penalty claim.
It was always likely to be a fiery confrontation on a pitch frosted with ice, but passed playable at 8:30am. Amid the Arctic chill, though, the supporters were to be warmed by a breathless first half, crammed with action and incident.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes was denied both captain Ryan Jack and Willo Flood through hamstring injuries, but his approach was positive with strikers David Goodwillie and Adam Rooney both starting the match, though Goodwillie lasted just 28 minutes before the Reynolds red card forced his tactical removal.
The hosts were stripped of three first-choice performers – Liam Boyce, Craig Curran and Martin Woods – through injury.
Jim McIntyre, the home manager, made one notable tactical switch with ex-Aberdeen and Rangers full-back Richard Foster pushed forward in a wide midfield role.
Young Ian McShane, a summer cash signing from Queen of the South, also supplanted Australia international Jackson Irvine in the heart of midfield.
On a bobbly surface, the Dons made a stirring start, sustaining early pressure for a good 12 minutes.
Immediately from kick-off, they won a corner and in the next attack Jonny Hayes’ powerful strike was brilliantly tipped over the bar by County’s Scott Fox.
Fox would also parry another Hayes strike after watching defender Marcus Fraser only just thwart Adam Rooney in the box. Rooney should have done better from Shay Logan’s fine cross, heading well over the bar.
County weathered the early storm and suddenly it was the visiting team living dangerously. Ash Taylor had to tackle into his own keeper’s arms after 13 minutes as Alex Schalk prowled. Then, from fine County play, the hosts really should have scored. Michael Gardyne fed in Foster for a fierce strike touched over the bar by the restored Scott Brown.
There was furore as County had a clear penalty claim turned down as Taylor tripped McShane in the box. Manager McIntyre’s understandable anger earned him a rebuke from referee Crawford Allan, but County’s recompense came after 26 minutes as Brian Graham fed in Schalk again and Reynolds’ blatant trip earned a straight red card.
McShane lined up right on the cusp of the 18-yard line and, with the wall rendered redundant, drilled a clever low free-kick into the left-hand corner of the net, with keeper Brown static.
At 1-0 up against ten men, it seemed straightforward enough for the hosts. Aberdeen had other ideas.
The Dons regrouped, and again became the aggressors. When Chris Robertson tugged Rooney’s jersey in the box after 32 minutes, the Irish striker fell theatrically and tucked away the penalty award himself for a 15th goal of the season.
Aberdeen might have contented themselves with seeing out the rest of the half, but instead went ahead.
Hayes’ incisive running was at the heart of the latest wave of pressure and when his cross swirled into the six-yard box Logan struck, albeit with the suspicion of a touch from County’s Jamie Reckord.
Further tit-for-tat followed and the half-time cuppa had certainly been earned by both sides.
County made a double substitution, restoring Irvine and Tuesday’s Scottish Cup matchwinner Raffa De Vita – but then fell further behind on the hour.
Graeme Shinnie’s cross was touched on by Rooney before Logan, again, showed timing and predatory instinct at the back post from three yards.
The second half was a pale shadow of the first in entertainment, but, 15 minutes from the end, County substitute Irvine did ripple the roof of the net with a powerful header.
Soon after, young home substitute Greg Morrison also cut a shot just wide with only the keeper to beat.
The game seemed to be petering out towards full-time before McShane re-ignited the contest with a wonderful 30-yard strike.
Late pressure ensued, but the Dons’ players were leaping in delight in front of the travelling support as the full-time whistle sounded.
• Aberdeen defender Paul Quinn, who joined the Dons from Ross County during the summer after an on-and-off move, will today return to the Dingwall club. The 30-year-old former Motherwell, Cardiff City and Doncaster Rovers defender played for County from October 2014 to the end of last season and swithered backwards and forwards before agreeing a two-year contract with Aberdeen in June.
Quinn’s family have not settled in the Granite City and are keen to return to the Highlands. Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes was reluctant to let the player go, but after a heart to heart last week he gave the move his blessing.
Quinn was a substitute in yesterday’s 3-2 defeat. The move had already been agreed between the clubs but was delayed until the game was out of the way.