Aberdeen 0 - 0 St Johnstone: Pittodrie stalemate

Aberdeen's Niall McGinn gets away from Frazer Wright. Picture: SNS
Aberdeen's Niall McGinn gets away from Frazer Wright. Picture: SNS
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Perhaps not the most surprising scoreline for teams who, in contrasting circumstances, are struggling for goals at this early stage of the new season.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has now seen his side create a number of chances in all their matches but they have failed to score from open play in the last four matches.

St Johnstone may have won both away legs in their Europa League qualifiers but they have failed to hit the target in any of their first three games in domestic competition.

Ironically, in a contest where they were content to follow last weekend’s 4-0 defeat at Tannadice by keeping a clean sheet further up the A90, Tommy Wright’s side squandered the best opportunity

Murray Davidson scooped Nigel Hasselbaink’s cut back well wide of the target but it was the performance of the oldest man on the park that most pleased former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Wright.

Stevie Banks, now 41 years of age, turned back the clock with a series of saves to deny Gregg Wylde, Peter Pawlett and, most spectacularly of all, Niall McGinn, deserving one bit of luck when the latter’s header bounced back off the bar late on.

A delighted Wright said: “It was important to get back to basics and we worked very hard to do that against a very good side but Stevie Banks had to be excellent for us to get the point and clean sheet.”

McInnes spoke warmly of his affinity and affection for St Johnstone in the build up to this first competitive meeting with the club since departing for an ill-fated spell in charge at Bristol City.

That’s hardly surprising given that he ended their seven year exile from the top flight then kept them there with a legacy that is still responsible for half of what is now Wright’s starting line up.

The priority for McInnes here was discovering the strength of his work in progress at revitalising Aberdeen, especially given injuries to key personnel like Willo Flood, Jonny Hayes and Barry Robson.

Michael Hector, a defender on loan from Reading, started in central midfield only to be replaced by Cammy Smith at the interval while former Rangers winger Wylde struggled against Dave Mackay down the left flank. McGinn was partnered with Josh Magennis up front, the third combination in three successive games tried by the Aberdeen manager with little early indication it would prove any more successful than the previous two.

The overall impression was of a lack of creativity and fluency despite the home side enjoying long spells of possession and McInnes, who warned against getting too carried away after starting with two wins, could easily have said: “I told you so.”

“A combination of some poor decision making and great saves from Stevie Banks frustrated us,” was his more measured reaction and McInnes added: “If we had shown the intensity of the second half throughout I think we would have won.”

Hasselbaink’s desperation to improve St Johnstone’s strike rate earned him a yellow card for a theatrical dive early in the match but most of the visitors’ good work going forward stemmed from the Dutchman when he stayed on his feet.

For example, his persistence created the opportunity for David Wotherspoon to force Jamie Langfield into a rare save just before the interval before carving out the visitor’s best chance of a goal just after the restart.

Pace and poise down the right carried Hasselbaink clear of Mark Reynolds then produce the perfect drag back that Davidson, Saints joint top scorer in the league last season, scooped wide from close range. Aberdeen, who did make failed enquiries about taking Celtic striker Tony Watt on loan, piled on the pressure but to no avail and McInnes will be hoping his influential trio return for the trip to Firhill in a fortnight.