Forget the romance of the cup. There was no wooing involved in this one. From the minute Adam Rooney slammed home the opening goal in the seventh minute, it was a case of wham, bam, thank you mam.
St Mirren may be strolling the Championship but this was a tough lesson in what they can expect against the top teams if they see out the season in premier position.
Against an Aberdeen side that took nothing for granted and were clinical in dispatching their lower tier opponents, there was never a stage of this match when Jack Ross’ men looked likely to pull off a Scottish Cup shock. The Pittodrie side were just too good for them, exposing their visitors’ frailties at the back and leaving them to rue too many individual errors.
Stelios Demetriou had a game that he will try to forget. It was his challenge that handed Aberdeen the opportunity to take the early advantage. Gary Mackay-Steven drew men to him before picking out a pass to Ryan Christie and he played the ball wide to Greg Stewart and as he cut into the box, the Cypriot fullback felled him and the referee was on hand to award the penalty. Rooney converted, sending Craig Samson the wrong way.
The question was how the Saints, who are unfamiliar with losing, could respond. Up front they are lively and they tried to play their natural game but against players who are virtually an entire league table above them, they were finding life difficult to play their usual expansive game. Aberdeen had control of the midfield, with Christie, Kenny McLean and Graeme Shinnie controlling matters and it stemmed the flow to St Mirren’s front men. It left their defence exposed and they were ill-equipped to deal with that.
Christie was instrumental in so much of what was good in the Aberdeen performance and he earned his rewards in the 18th and 33rd minute, showing composure as he finished
Mackay-Steven burst through towards the byeline and while Greg Stewart was up with him, he cut it back where, with St Mirren at sixes and sevens, support was arriving in numbers and picked out Christie, who side footed it home.
His second goal again underlined the guests’ ability to shoot themselves in the foot. Demetriou attempted to clear a cross into the area clear but hit it off his teammate and when it dropped to Shay Logan, he swung in another cross which Christie headed home at the back post.
“We have good players but we do give up opportunities as well,” said the St Mirren boss, “I was pleased with a lot of aspects of the first half, I know that sounds strange as we were 3-1 down, but we played well for large periods of it. We were punished ruthlessly for some individual mistakes but our shape and play going forward was good. There’s always that challenge as a manager of how defensive you are and how much you try and effect the game going forward.”
The loss of the third goal was disappointing, given the fact that a Gavin Reilly had pounced to bury his effort. Demetriou showed himself more proficient going forward and his efforts served up an opening for Lewis Morgan. Joe Lewis had to block that one but Reilly was the first to respond to temporarily narrow the deficit.
Aberdeen could have gone on to add to their tally ahead of the interval, with the manager Derek McInnes irked by the fact his men took their feet of the gas at times. He blamed rustiness for that, given the winter break, but was happy that they produced the goods when necessary to ensure they would comfortably see out the match.
With St Mirren aware than a goal-scoring start to the second half would bolster the hopes of an unlikely comeback, it was actually Aberdeen who found the net, just two minutes after the restart. And it was a beautiful finish from MacKay-Steven, who responded perfectly to the return of Niall McGinn to the club and signalled he would not be forgoing his starting berth without a fight.
The strike from the edge of the box was pinged straight into the postage stamp corner of Samson’s goal, giving him no chance of reaching it. It was enough to shore up the victory, sending Saints into defensive mode as they tried to prevent an embarrassing mauling.
““It was potentially a tricky tie - the TV cameras are here because they maybe see a scalp coming and I understand that, the way St Mirren have been going. They’re a very good side and going the right way. But we were very clinical in the first half. I feel there were moments of sloppiness that gave them too much encouragement for my liking but throughout it all we had some good performances, some fantastic goals and an experienced second half performance got the job done. We were never in danger of a slip. Now look forward to whatever the draw brings us in the next round.”