Aberdeen 0 - 0 St Johnstone: Unbeaten Dons ride out a low-key affair
IT HAS taken manager Craig Brown a while, but Aberdeen are firmly establishing themselves as a team who are hard to beat. It might not always be pretty, but stopping the rot has been Brown’s primary objective.
Here they racked up a tenth game unbeaten. Indeed, the Pittodrie side have tasted defeat only once in their last 14 matches in all competitions. However, too many draws in this sequence of results make it difficult to see Aberdeen making a real impact in the league. This, their fifth in seven league games since Christmas, saw them pass up the opportunity to move into the top six as only a win would have taken then ahead of Dundee United and Kilmarnock. As it is, they remain eighth.
“It wasn’t a spell-binder, was it?” admitted Brown afterwards. He did, however, praise his side for posting a clean sheet against a team able to field Fran Sandaza and Cillian Sheridan in a strike-pairing the Aberdeen manager considers to be the best in the league outside Celtic’s Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes.
Aberdeen exhibited many of the qualities which defined Scotland during Brown’s time as the international manager and he even had one of his former Scotland charges making his debut here. Brown gave Gavin Rae his Scotland debut in 2001 and the 34-year-old midfielder made his first appearance for his home town club.
Rae has been recovering from a hamstring strain and looked rusty yesterday before being replaced midway through the second half by Darren Mackie. It wasn’t a great afternoon for former Rangers players operating in the Aberdeen midfield. Stephen Hughes didn’t even make it as far as half-time, having picked up a hamstring injury. The initially lively-looking Daniel Uchechi came on for Hughes just a minute before the end of the first-half and stayed on the park during the interval as he attempted to warm up on a bitterly cold afternoon.
Evidence of the snow which had fallen over night could still be traced on the side of the pitch and although the sun was bright, the pitch was hard and bumpy and made even more treacherous by a layer of surface moisture.
As expected, Aberdeen showed most intent in the opening stages. Brown’s side were eager to continue their recent improvement and Mitchell Megginson threatened first but skewed his shot past the post. Then Fraser Fyvie, who saw a lot of the ball in the opening half, powered a header just past the post.
It took St Johnstone a while to shake off the disappointment of their midweek Scottish Cup defeat to Hearts. But they, too, had a reason to want to dig out a win. Three points would have taken them above the Tynecastle side and might have provided at least some consolation for the cup disappointment. In the end, manager Steve Lomas described the point earned as a good one – so long as his side follow it up with a home win over Dunfermline this weekend. Sandaza was the visitors’ likeliest source of hope yesterday and things started to happen for the tall striker, whose decision to reject a pre-contract offer from Rangers has been made to look incredibly judicious.
He intends to finish off the season in style with St Johnstone and as the first half wore on, chances began to appear for him. The first, after a poor pass from Mark Reynolds, saw him shoot straight at Jason Brown. Another effort, after 38 minutes, was sent similarly close to Brown’s body but the ‘keeper allowed the ball to slip beneath him before retrieving it again before any real damage was done.
The best chance of the first half fell to Aberdeen and was set up by Hughes just prior to him having to leave the field. The midfieler knocked the ball into the path of Scott Vernon following a slip by Frazer Wright but the striker slashed the ball wide when more composure was expected from him.
Opportunities to find the net were even more limited in the second half. Sandaza slipped when trying to score and saw the ball sail high over Brown’s bar while Lee Croft, on for Chris Millar, delayed his shot when played in by the Spaniard and the chance was gone.
Aberdeen were deeply disappointing after the interval until a late burst of activity towards the end. Kari Arnason sent a drive just wide of the post and Vernon saw an angled shot held by Alan Mannus. Mohamed Chalali, who had come on for Megginson, saw his acrobatic effort fly just wide of the top corner.
Had it gone in, it would have been out of keeping with what we had witnessed in the preceding 89 minutes. But there was still time for Aberdeen to almost throw the game away when substitute Darren Mackie was slow to come for a ball allowing St Johnstone to regain possession in the middle of the Aberdeen half. The ball was passed to Jody Morris, whose cross was headed just wide by Marcus Haber.
The final whistle sounded soon after to a chorus of jeers. It says something for the improvement in fortunes under Brown that Aberdeen fans are back to being hard-to-please.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
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