A striker without a goal from open play to his name in four months isn’t usually a candidate for a man of the match award. That Stevie May could scoop such an honour in Aberdeen’s dramatic 4-3 defeat at home to Celtic on Boxing Day says everything about the Pittodrie crowd’s appreciation of the sinew-straining endeavours the 26-year-old forward is producing for Derek McInnes’s team.
May did score in what proved only Aberdeen’s third defeat in their past 11 league games, netting from the penalty spot to make it 1-1 early on. Even when he was substituted after Celtic had netted a second 76 minutes in, no-one could envisage the goalrush that yanked the encounter away from the home side. May maintains it will not be an outcome that will be allowed to drain Aberdeen’s confidence going into a final pre-shutdown encounter that takes them to Livingston tomorrow.
“We’ve had a lot of games recently and it was always going to get tougher and tougher as the game went on,” he said. “But for large spells, we did a lot of things right and there are a lot of positives to take, but it’s just disappointing how it ended. We have had a real successful December [with five league wins from seven games] and while Livingston will be a tough game, especially with the astroturf pitch, as a team we’ve created a lot more chances recently. It’s something we’ve been working on. That’s a bonus. It’s just disappointing that the three goals weren’t enough to win against Celtic.”
May is some way from being returned to the predator who netted 27 goals from 49 appearances in his final season with St Johnstone – the Scottish Cup-winning campaign of 2013-14 – having struck 26 times on loan at then second tier Hamilton Accies the previous campaign. Injuries and indifferent form during his English sojourn that brought spells with Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End appeared to change him.
However, his partnership with Sam Cosgrove, who has found his scoring touch with seven goals in his past five games, means May doesn’t have to be finisher so much as supplier. He has become a support forward and foil for the rumbustious frontline focal point that the young Englishman has become. The remodelling seems to be bringing a new energy to his game.
“The partnership is good,” said May. “It’s suited both of us in different ways. He’s been on fire so it’s a credit to him kicking on like that. The amount of games has helped both of us, not thinking and just getting back into games. The training we’ve done has been pretty minimal. It’s just been recovery and back into a game. When you’re a partnership that’s successful then it gets easier so it’s a real bonus.”
There were grave predictions that McInnes’s men could be on the slide after a stuttering start to the current campaign, with May’s travails in front of goal read as symptomatic of the problems that could cost them any hopes of maintaining their place in the upper echelons of the top flight.
Yet all recent evidence suggests they retain the hardiness and are capable of the incisiveness required to challenge Rangers and Kilmarnock for the status as Celtic’s most serious threat – as they have been for the past four years.
In their head-to-heads with the champions this season – one of these the recent Betfred Cup final – they may have come off second best, but on each of the three occasions the pair have met there has been a real edge to contests that have all been settled by a single goal. For May, that shouldn’t be overlooked.
“They’re champions, and what then usually happens in close games with them is that they’ll get the better of it,” he said. “It’s just something we need to work towards. The games have been close, closer than what they were a couple of years ago, so we’re making progress in the right direction. Considering where we were about a month ago, we’ve done really well to get back up that table and be in amongst it.
“Considering the squad is a bit thin at the minute, I think it’s a credit to the team and the manager the way we’ve played. I really think we’ve kicked on in December.”