Aberdeen 1 - 0 Hamilton: Dons extend lead at the top

CELTIC remain red-hot favourites to retain the Scottish Premiership title but even this early the defending champions must be wondering how many of the other teams in the division will be capable of taking points from Aberdeen this season.
Aberdeen's Adam Rooney (right) celebrates having fired home from the penalty spot to put his side ahead. Picture: SNSAberdeen's Adam Rooney (right) celebrates having fired home from the penalty spot to put his side ahead. Picture: SNS
Aberdeen's Adam Rooney (right) celebrates having fired home from the penalty spot to put his side ahead. Picture: SNS

Ronny Deila’s side certainly weren’t up to the task last weekend, despite playing with a man advantage for the final 20 minutes, and the Dons continued their flawless start to this campaign to move five points clear at the top of the table.

It is now seven straight wins ahead of Sunday’s trip to Tynecastle, a venue where Aberdeen have defeated Hearts just once in their last 11 visits. Win that and even the bookies might start adjusting the odds on the title race.

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Not that Hamilton played badly, as they had the Dons hanging on to their slender lead for grim death at the end at Pittodrie on a night when their player-manager Martin Canning will feel that, for the second match running, they were on the wrong end of key refereeing decisions.

It’s simply that Aberdeen had too much steel and ability despite not exactly producing their best form.

Those qualities are built on a squad so strong that not even scoring the winning goal against Celtic just a few days previously was enough to keep Paul Quinn in the Aberdeen starting line-up.

The central defender was joined on the bench by Shay Logan, with fellow right-back Ryan McLaughlin handed a first start since signing on loan from Liverpool just before the transfer deadline.

The Northern Ireland international is taller and physically more imposing than Logan but just as quick to get down the line and, if anything, more tidy when in possession.

However, it was the form of Graeme Shinnie on the other side that proved crucial in turning possession into something tangible in 23 minutes as he earned the deadlock-breaking penalty.

There were similarlities to the one he won against Celtic as there seemed little danger to the opposition goal when Ziggy Gordon slid in recklessly to take him out.

Adam Rooney did his usual effective job from the resulting spot-kick for his sixth goal of the season, four of them coming from the 12-yard mark.

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Gordon and his manager were far from impressed by the award and the fact they had been denied a stonewall penalty at Perth last Saturday must have added picquancy to their reactions.

Not that their mood was helped a few minutes later when referee Crawford Allan booked Dougie Imrie for simulation as he collapsed under Ash Taylor’s challenge in the home penalty area.

Former Hearts striker Christian Nade made a nuisance of himself as the focal point of the visitors’ sporadic attacks and Grant Gillespie fired a 25-yard volley wide, but Aberdeen always looked in control.

All that was lacking was a second goal to put the result beyond doubt and it took a quite breathtaking instinctive Michael McGovern save to deny Rooney one from open play on the hour mark. Shinnie and Ryan Jack opened up the Accies defence down the left and the latter picked out Rooney with a cross which the prolific marksman seemed certain to convert.

What he didn’t reckon on was McGovern’s reflexes as the goalkeeper showed why he is first choice for Northern Ireland as Michael O’Neill’s side close in on qualification for the Euro 2016 finals.

With such a slender lead there were moments of anxiety for the home support in an attendance of 13,246 – up nearly 3,000 on the corresponding fixture last season, largely in response to Derek McInnes’s plea for just such an increase to boost their title challenge.

The manager tried to relieve any growing sense of tension by introducing Red Star Belgrade’s on-loan winger Josh Parker to inject yet more pace and trickery down the flanks and he certainly delivered.

The Antigua and Barbuda captain swept a cross on to the head of Kenny McLean, who turned the ball across the danger area where Niall McGinn skelped it off the crossbar.

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Parker himself should have ended any lingering doubt about the outcome with just a few minutes left when, in Hamilton’s laudable attempts to find an equaliser, they overcommitted men forward.

Their loss of possession allowed Aberdeen to launch a route one counter-attack in which the winger raced clear from halfway only for Jesus Garcia Tena to get back just in time to nip the ball off his toes.

It certainly made for a thrilling finale with the Dons defence determined to maintain a record of conceding just one goal from open play this season.

In the end they had enough resilience to see it out and secure the three points, even though they played the last few minutes with just ten men again, as this time Taylor was forced off with a head injury after all three substitutes had been used.

Aberdeen: Ward, McLaughlin (Logan 72), Taylor, Considine, Shinnie, Jack, Flood, McGinn, McLean (Pawlett 82), Hayes (Parker 72), Rooney. Subs not used: Brown, Robson, Goodwillie, Quinn

Hamilton: McGovern, Gordon, (Longridge 90), Garcia Tena, Tagliapietra, Kurakins, MacKinnon (Docherty 34), Gillespie, Imrie, Crawford, Kurtaj, Nade (D’Acol 61). Subs not used: Martin, Redmond, Sendles-White, Lyon.

Referee: C Allan

Attendance: 13,246