LEAGUE Cup specialist Adam Rooney scored the goal that took the holders through to this season’s semi-final and earned a measure of revenge for a heavy Premiership defeat at Hamiton 12 days previously.
The Irishman scored the decisive penalty kick in the shoot-out against Caley Thistle that clinched the trophy for the Dons at Celtic Park last March.
He also hit a hat-trick against Livingston in the previous round and a spectacular diving header at Pittodrie last night means manager Derek McInnes has steered the club to three successive semi-finals since taking charge. By contrast, Hamilton have now suffered consecutive defeats for the first time since last December and Saturday’s visit by Partick Thistle now becomes a real test of character for the league leaders.
Their manager Alex Neil made three changes to the side beaten at Dundee, one of which was enforced as Stephen Hendrie was sent off in the previous round against Motherwell. His replacement was Martin Canning, back after missing the previous six matches with an injury.
McInnes contented himself with just one alteration to the team that defeated Motherwell but it proved to be a crucial one as Rooney returned from the start with David Goodwillie dropping to the bench.
The Dons started with the same pace and intensity that brought an early breakthrough in that previous match and once again it was Jonny Hayes causing most of the problems. The former Caley Thistle winger’s speed down the right flank caused several moments of anxiety for the Accies defence.
Aberdeen were desperate to make amends for their recent 3-0 humiliation in the league at Hamilton as they pushed forward with determination and no little invention.
That was evident in 19 minutes when a sweeping move ended with Rooney slipping the ball to McGinn only for Michael McGovern to produce a stunning block at the striker’s feet. That wasn’t the last time the goalkeeper would excel but there was nothing he could do to prevent Rooney breaking the deadlock from a well-worked free kick straight from the training ground in 25 minutes.
Grant Gillespie was cautioned for a foul on Shay Logan and Accies were undone by the movement of the opposition players as they awaited McGinn’s delivery from the right. Two Aberdeen attackers started in an offside position, distracting the defence as they moved back onside as the ball was whipped in.
Rooney timed his run in the opposite direction to perfection sending a diving header soaring into the net.
McGinn and Peter Pawlett were each denied a second goal within seconds only because of some desperate last-ditch blocks.
Such was the league leaders’ disarray that Canning nearly sliced another wicked McGinn cross into his own net,
McGovern rescuing the situation with an astonishing reflex save.
By contrast, Scott Brown at the other end didn’t have a single save to make during a first half in which Accies were out-thought and out-fought. That pattern continued at the start of the second half as even left-back Andrew Considine got forward to good effect for the Dons as they pushed for the second goal their dominance deserved.
Ryan Jack laid a ball into the defender’s path and McGovern was once again forced to prove his brilliance with a diving save high to his left.
The ’keeper topped even that after another attacking move in which Hayes and McGinn opened Accies up down the right wing. The latter pulled the ball back into the path of Pawlett, who seemed certain to settle the tie only for McGovern to rescue his side once again with a sprawling save.
A single-goal lead is vulnerable, however dominant you are in a match and Accies should have levelled in 73 minutes.
Tony Andreu was allowed to slip past Jack far too easily at the edge of the home penalty area but Brown narrowed the angle to produce a comfortable first serious save of the night.
A second followed in quick succession with Andreu again denied by the diving Brown but Aberdeen comfortably ran down the clock to ease into the last four once again.
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