Aberdeen rue another failure to capitalise on Celtic slip-up

Everybody knows Aberdeen have limited opportunities to put serious pressure on a weak-spirited Celtic side led by Ronny Deila. But, for whatever reason, whenever it comes time to wedge their foot in the door and put down a serious marker in terms of the title race, Derek McInnes's side invariably come up short.

Liam Craig celebrates with team-mates after his penalty kick secured a point at Pittodrie. Picture: SNS
Liam Craig celebrates with team-mates after his penalty kick secured a point at Pittodrie. Picture: SNS

Saturday’s 1-1 draw with St Johnstone represented the third occasion since mid-November where Aberdeen found themselves playing the day after Celtic had dropped points, with a real chance to cut the gap at the top.

On each of the previous two occasions they drew – away to Hamilton and and at home to Partick Thistle – and it was the same story this time around.

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What made this result particularly galling was that they had it in the palm of their hand.

The visitors were unlucky to be trailing to a 35th minute goal by Simon Church, having created more opportunities in the match to that point.

However, once they found themselves behind, it seemed Tommy Wright’s men had little answer for the hosts, both in terms of possession and creating chances.

They bravely held on at the other end despite a flurry of activity in their own penalty box, but there appeared no way of breaking through the Aberdeen rearguard, who hadn’t so much as given up a half-chance after Church’s opener.

Then Ryan Jack went to ground in a challenge on Liam Craig on the left side of the penalty box, near the bye-line, in the 88th minute. Referee Steven McLean pointed to the spot and Craig dusted himself off to level the scores.

While Aberdeen didn’t rage at the decision post-match, they still backed up Jack’s version of events when the auxiliary right-back insisted he got a touch on the ball. Regardless, it was a challenge Jack should not have made, and it enabled McLean to hand St Johnstone a lifeline they were not getting otherwise.

“We’re frustrated. Doubly frustrated with Celtic dropping points,” admitted centre-back Mark Reynolds. “We had the chance to close that gap and then we don’t capitalise on that opportunity.

“So it is disappointing, especially the manner in which it became a draw as well. Even at 1-0 we felt comfortable. But with the game at 1-0 you’re always putting it to chance and when Jack slides in he’s giving the referee the chance to give the penalty.”

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History would tell us their chances are as good as dead. But then, historically, Celtic sides gunning for the title tend to be more fearsome than the current outfit.

Aberdeen will likely travel to Celtic Park after the split for the final meeting between the sides. If they can cut the gap prior to that game, they can still count themselves in the race. It will take a run of few blemishes, but then this club did reel off eight successive victories to begin the season, and there is not another team outside of the champions they wouldn’t fancy beating.

“There’s only 11 games left now. We were always confident that Celtic would drop points, like they did last night, and that there would be that odd draw here and there. We’re close enough that it can still allow us to get back on them,” added Reynolds.

“We’ve still to play them, so we just need to keep it tight. There’s very little time left and we’re getting to the stage where these chances are going to be very few and far between. We need to start capitalising and get ourselves as close as we can.

“We don’t even need them to lose. We just need them to draw and lose the two points and then do what we haven’t done today.

“It’s hard for us because you want to look at the games left and wonder what you can do, but once you do that then you can start tripping yourself up in the next game.

“We’ve always been careful to just take it one game at a time. We’ll leave it to the fans and the media to speculate. As long as we keep putting the pressure on, Celtic will either answer or they won’t, and we’ll see where that takes us.”