Inverness CT 3-4 Aberdeen: Dons edge thriller

Peter Pawlett celebrates scoring Aberdeen's third goal. Picture: SNS
Peter Pawlett celebrates scoring Aberdeen's third goal. Picture: SNS
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IT IS now 30 years since the marvel of Gothenburg. Back then, the three decades of decline and stagnation in store would have seemed inconceivable.

Inverness: McKay 47, 57; Shinnie 90. Aberdeen: Robson 22(pen), 32; Pawlett 37; McGinn 44.

It would have been unimaginable, too, for those of a Dons persuasion to imagine that a team from 100 miles along the A96 might need to be dislodged above them in second place in Scotland’s top flight. That was the scenario yesterday, but it was mission accomplished for Derek McInnes’s marauding side after a spectacular festive game of football.

Inverness, in the Alex Ferguson era, were barely on the Dons’ radar and only then for pre-season friendlies and testimonials. Yesterday’s first half began to resemble a pre-season stroll for the Dons in remarkable circumstances. Yet, having stormed 4-0 up, Caley Thistle tore back to within agonising margins of a draw.

Danny Williams replaced recent stand-out performer Marley Watkins, who missed out unexpectedly with a dead leg. The Dons were about to give the hosts a far greater battering than mere treatment table bumps and bruises, though.

Derek McInnes also made just one change, with Joe Shaughnessy in for Andy Considine.

Play unfolded with a certain ferocity and John Hughes, the new Inverness manager, saw his team make the early running in his first home game. Nobody could have guessed, then, just what was in store. It was all to disintegrate dramatically for a team who came into the match on a run of five games without conceding.

The spate of four goals in 22 first-half minutes all started from an innocuous piece of bad luck.

Barry Robson’s chipped ball into the home box seemed hopeful but hit Josh Meekings’ raised arm as he went to challenge. Whether or not intent was there, Robson himself, drove the spot-kick powerfully past Dean Brill’s dive. Back at the ground where he shone until winning a move to Dundee United a decade ago, Robson then grabbed the second after 31 minutes.

The Dons’ movement was inspired and Peter Pawlett’s cross was met by a wonderful header from the veteran former Celtic and Scotland midfielder. Just six minutes later, Aberdeen sliced the hosts open again. Pawlett fed Scott Vernon wide and his low return cross from the right had the young Aberdeen wide-man sliding in ahead of Carl Tremarco to claim the third. Foran, the home skipper, went down to a shuddering blow to the head from Russell Anderson in the away box and had to leave the field. With 10 men, the weakened hosts conceded another just before the break.

Again, it was like a hot knife through butter, as Niall McGinn wheeled away and cut inside Gary Warren before slamming a low shot past Brill with venom.

The hosts retaliated inside two second-half minutes. Tremarco’s corner was misjudged and fumbled by keeper Jamie Langfield and Billy Mckay stretched to score his 16th of the season at the back post.

Aberdeen nerves started to jangle after 56 minutes when Mckay made it 17 as he whirled past Langfield and struck again. A nasty head clash just after the hour halted the frenetic football, with Mark Reynolds and David Raven left writhing in agony.

The Dons’ Reynolds took it worse and was stretchered off to be replaced by Jonny Hayes.When Graeme Shinnie nodded brilliantly over Langfield with a few minutes of injury time left, a miracle comeback came tantalisingly within reach. But the late stampede fell just short.