Aberdeen defeated Motherwell for the second time in under a month and while the circumstances could hardly have been more different, yesterday’s three points will be just as satisfying for the Pittodrie club as they close in on a second place finish.
It took until two minutes into stoppage time for Niall McGinn to score the only goal of the game against a side they had hit for seven in the middle of February, but it was still enough to re-establish a nine- point lead over Rangers.
Pedro Caixinha may have been unveiled the Ibrox club’s new manager but he will have to be a miracle worker to dislodge the Dons from the runners-up spot this season given the additional benefit their goal advantage brings.
This was also the first time since the Alex Ferguson era that Aberdeen have strung together eight successive home wins, but they were made to sweat for it against a team trying their best to get caretaker Stevie Robinson the manager’s job on what passes for a permanent basis.
If the Motherwell players were humiliated on their last trip to Pittodrie they were left shattered for different reasons this time as they were just moments away from a first clean sheet since mid December when McGinn struck. Several sank to their knees when referee Euan Ferguson blew for time although Aberdeen were left feeling justice was done on an afternoon where the official booked six Motherwell players, two for time wasting.
Their disruptive tactics were understandable given what happened at the same venue in February as it contributed towards Mark McGhee’s dismissal as manager but it made for a frustrating, disjointed game to watch and no better to play in according the match winner.
“I think if you go out and win the game 4-0 or 5-0 you’re delighted” said a relieved McGinn, “but to score a late winner is that extra good feeling, you saw the celebrations, we were halfway down the tunnel at one stage.
“It was a frustrating game at times, we had opportunities and if we had scored early we probably would have gone on to score a few but the longer the game went on the more frustrating it got.
“They were taking their time and you would expect that from a side who are struggling in the bottom half of the table. We definitely deserved to win the game but if you’re Motherwell you’re probably not feeling too good about yourselves.”
The Steelmen’s caretaker manager Stephen Robinson confirmed as much afterwards while acknowledging his charges had done their best to get him the full-time post against such competition as Owen Coyle and Simo Valakari.
Robinson expects the situation to be decided tomorrow but was pleased with the commitment of a team denied the services of several injured defenders as well as suspended top-scorer Louis Moult.
It is to their credit then that they reached injury time on level terms, although goalkeeper Craig Samson and the occasional slice of luck were contributing factors.
In the former category Samson made a magnificent instinctive save when Adam Rooney deflected and redirected a Stockley shot at close range, then tipped over McGinn’s drive from the edge of the penalty area. Ash Taylor and Rooney heading over from close range while Graeme Shinnie scooped the ball over the bar from point-blank range were the most notable in the latter category.
The longer the game went on the more it became like a training exercise of attack v defence as Aberdeen swept forward in numbers and Motherwell’s brave resistance finally crumbled deep in time added on when Hayes flew down the left and McGinn’s run wasn’t tracked by Motherwell’s weary backline allowing the Northern Ireland international to score his 13th goal of the season.
It was certainly unlucky for the visitors, not that Robinson was in a particularly sympathetic mood as he said: “They are on their knees in the changing room but they have to deal with it. They were throwing their bodies on the line and defending when it needed defending. At times, if we’d had one better pass, we could have maybe got through on goal. It’s a tough one to take but we’ll deal with it and move on.”
They’ll certainly have to do exactly that as they have just ten games to go and this latest defeat leaves Motherwell just four points clear of bottom club Inverness Caley Thistle.