Battle for second goes on after Hibs and Aberdeen stalemate

Anthony O'Connor earns an early booking as his trip on John McGinn prevents the Hibs midfielder from breaking clear. Picture: SNS.
Anthony O'Connor earns an early booking as his trip on John McGinn prevents the Hibs midfielder from breaking clear. Picture: SNS.
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Hibernian were holding out for a hero and Dylan McGeouch certainly looked the part. But, in the end, even the Batman lookalike failed to get the breakthrough they wanted against an Aberdeen side determined not to give away the advantage they hold in the race for second place.

With two games remaining, a draw means that chase remains wide open, but Aberdeen will be feeling more confident than they would have been had they allowed the Easter Road side to gain all three points and close the gap. With two matches against the Old Firm, the Pittodrie side have their destiny in their own hands.

Not that anyone at Hibernian has given up hope of overhauling Derek McInnes’ men and third-placed Rangers, which is why McGeouch is willing to wear a specially-made face mask, to protect his fractured eye socket, and weather the ribbing of his team-mates and the punters in the stand, so desperate is he to get involved in the vital run-in, having been forced to sit out the previous weekend’s game against 
Kilmarnock.

“I get the Batman and Zorro shouts every couple of minutes,” said the midfielder who was voted player of the year at the club awards night. “It’s a good laugh and it’s good to get back playing.

“It was frustrating last week. I was itching to play and the mask wasn’t here on time. I was gutted. It was a nice day, sunny, the boys were brilliant and it was hard watching in the stand knowing you’d put a lot of effort in this season. But the boys got the job done and it was great. It’s been a long season and we’ve done well so far. These games are like a cup final every week so it’s good to be back.

“It’s high-tech stuff so it’s built for sportsmen to wear. I went down south and got it measured up and that’s why it took a bit of time to get ready. It was getting sent from the Czech Republic so we were waiting for it over last weekend. But I had it on in training this week. It was a wee bit uncomfortable at the start and I was a bit wary jumping into tackles. But the more I wear it the more I get used to it. If it gets me back on the pitch then I just need to get on with it.

“You know you’ve got a fracture there and you need to try to protect yourself. But the mask gives me that protection and the surgeon is quite happy with me to move forward and to play with it on. You’ve got that in the back of your mind but once the game starts and you get on the ball you forget about that and get on with your game.”

By the time McGeouch came on against Aberdeen he had little time to perform heroics and, like his team-mates, had to settle for the draw.

It could have been even better, had they cashed in on the best opportunity of the match. It came in the first five minutes, when Mark Reynolds bundled into Australian striker Jamie Maclaren and the referee awarded a penalty.

The player, who is hoping to make enough of an impression to convince Bill van Marwijk that he is worthy of a place in the Socceroos squad for the upcoming World Cup, dusted himself off and took the penalty but it was a poor effort and Aberdeen keeper Joe Lewis was able to dive and save.

It was one of the few clear-cut chances to materialise over the course of the afternoon, although the play did rage from end to end, as both teams tried to find the creative key needed to unlock their opponents’ defences.

It was also a game played at blistering speed until the energy reserves began to dwindle in the final period.

Before then, Maclaren had passed up another golden opportunity, heading over when he should have done much better from close range.

At the other end Aberdeen almost did make the breakthrough just before half-time, when a Steven Whittaker nudge was penalised and, from about 25 yards out, Niall McGinn stepped up to send a cleanly-struck free-kick off the bar. But, for all the effort and the breathless determination shown by both sides, there were no goals, stretching the excitement of the race for second place into the final two games of the season.

“I think the main thing is the fight for second,” said Aberdeen captain Graeme Shinnie, who knows that having played six and lost six against the two Glasgow sides this term, they have to right some wrongs in the run in.

“That’s what we want and, to do that, we need to beat Rangers [tomorrow], which would be nice as well. But our whole focus is on finishing second – that’s what means the most 
to us.”

That and securing their fifth successive European qualifying place.

“We always enjoy coming back to play in Europe and trying to compete at that level,” added Shinnie. “Those games have been some of the best I’ve had at Aberdeen. We would love that again – but our focus 
is on Tuesday.”