If Derek McInnes does become the new Rangers manager, he will be grateful that the 180 minutes he has just overseen against his prospective new employers were not regarded as an audition for the job.
It is McInnes’ wider body of work as Aberdeen boss which could earn him a return to his former club who yesterday savoured the completion of a fully merited double against their Pittodrie rivals to climb into second place in the Premiership table.
It was another insipid display from the Dons on the back of their 3-0 defeat at Ibrox last Wednesday night. Even a red card for former Aberdeen captain Ryan Jack, reducing Rangers to 10 men for most of the second half, did not prevent the visitors claiming another three points with relative comfort,
Goals from Danny Wilson and Josh Windass, before teenager Frank Ross replied with a stunning free-kick, delivered a fourth win in six games for Graeme Murty during his current stint as caretaker boss. It remains to be seen if it was Murty’s last game at the helm but he has clearly illustrated the potential for improvement by a previously underachieving group of players.
McInnes changed both his formation and personnel in response to the chastening midweek loss, albeit partially enforced by suspension and injury ruling out Ryan Christie and Gary Mackay-Steven respectively. The three-man central defence which failed so abjectly at Ibrox was ditched in favour of a more familiar looking set-up for the hosts but it did little to improve either the dynamism or fluency of their performance.
Rangers were able to settle comfortably into the match, a low-key opening suiting the visitors. There were a couple of early bookings from referee Willie Collum who was left with little option on either occasion - Windass cautioned for a ludicrous piece of simulation as he sought a penalty after knocking the ball wide of Dons ‘keeper Joe Lewis, then home skipper Graeme Shinnie going in the book for a cynical foul on James Tavernier.
Another foul by Shinnie, this time on Jason Holt, led to Rangers making the breakthrough. As the visitors lined up to take the free-kick, Shinnie and Kenny McLean argued animatedly among themselves. Whatever was said, it failed to bring the required level of organisation to Aberdeen’s defending of the situation.
They were remarkably passive as Declan John floated the set piece in from the right, picking out Wilson just inside the penalty area. The defender’s looping header soared beyond the static Lewis into the net.
Aberdeen lacked urgency and imagination in their attempts to impose themselves on the contest. For lengthy spells of possession for Rangers, it was as comfortable as they could have imagined at a venue which traditionally poses them as serious a challenge as anywhere.
Stevie May, operating in the centre of an attacking midfield trio just behind sole striker Adam Rooney, managed to penetrate the Rangers defence in the 26th minute but his shot was blocked by Wilson.
Rooney then scuffed a shot wide of Wes Foderingham’s right hand post to give the home fans at least a hint of encouragement.
But it needed a fine save by Lewis, diving low to his right to keep out a Windass shot following a positive run by Carlos Pena, to prevent Rangers doubling their advantage in the 32nd minute.
The Aberdeen support were growing increasingly restless but were so nearly celebrating an equaliser on the stroke of half time. Holt was penalised for a foul on Greg Stewart, the Rangers midfielder fortunate to escape a booking for the offence. Stewart whipped the free-kick in from the right and Andrew Considine’s powerful header thumped against the crossbar.
Rangers, already without Bruno Alves who suffered an injury in training, were forced into a central defensive change at the start of the second half with goalscorer Wilson replaced by Fabio Cardoso. The substitute made a telling early contribution for the visitors when he did well to block a May shot as Aberdeen tried to increase the tempo of their play.
Rangers continued to threaten, however, and Lewis made another fine save to deny Kenny Miller after the veteran striker had burst clear into the Aberdeen penalty area.
Jack’s contentious dismissal was acclaimed gleefully by the Dons fans, who had jeered their former player’s every touch up until that point. The midfielder had been the most accomplished performer on view, making his departure all the more frustrating for Murty. Jack appeared genuinely bemused by Collum’s decision, the referee reaching for his red card immediately after the Rangers player caught May with his follow through after winning the ball with a forceful challenge.
Rangers reorganised by withdrawing the increasingly peripheral figure of Pena, replacing him with Daniel Candeias. Before Aberdeen could make their one man advantage count, Rangers plundered the insurance of a second goal.
It was a fine counter-attacking move, led by Tavernier who set Candeias free on the right. The winger’s low cross picked out Windass who made no mistake with a simple close range finish beyond the exposed Lewis.
Aberdeen needed to find a rapid response and it was provided by substitute Ross. The teenager was fouled around 22 yards out by Tavernier and took the free-kick himself, curling a sublime effort over the defensive wall and into the top right hand corner of Foderingham’s goal, despite the Rangers ‘keeper managing to get a touch on the ball.
But Aberdeen were unable to find any real momentum on the back of that outstanding strike. They had territorial dominance for the closing stages without seriously stretching the Rangers defence. The closest they came to an equaliser was Stewart shot which flew narrowly wide of the target. In truth, a share of the spoils would have flattered them.