In September, last season’s runners-up had metaphorically battered Hearts, going three goals up by half-time. At Pittodrie on Saturday, Hearts shunned their usual gameplan and resorted to clattering their hosts. But Derek McInnes’ men still proved too good.
Jordan McGhee served himself up as scapegoat on the day, his rush of blood to the brain just three minutes from the end gifting Adam Rooney the chance to punish the teenager’s handball by slotting the winner home from the penalty spot.
But while he was filleted on social media, his manager and team-mates quickly rallied round the young defender.
They were adamant that he would learn from his error and said he had the mental fortitude to bounce back.
“He was gutted but even Messi makes mistakes,” said Sam Nicholson. “Every single one of us has made a mistake that has cost us a goal at either end. I missed a chance against Motherwell when I should have scored it.
“We are all so supportive of Jordan. He is a great player and he is only 19 and he has a great future and that is what he needs to look at.
“Aberdeen have a lot of experienced players but I guarantee every single one of them has made mistakes similar to that and look at them now, they are all great players and Jordan is going to go on a similar path.
“I know him very well. I know what sort of person he is. He is mentally one of the strongest boys at his age. He made his debut at 17 and scored against Aberdeen – that says it all.
“He has a great future and I hope he and everybody else put things to one side. We just have to kick on because that is football and now we have to look forward to St Johnstone.”
If the mistake was a blow to McGhee and Hearts, for Aberdeen the goal was just reward for an afternoon of almost total domination.
“We were aware it could have been a physical game and we had to try and match that and let a game of football break out,” said influential winger Jonny Hayes. “It didn’t materialise but we had some nice bits of play. It didn’t really matter how the game went, so long as we won – which we did, although we were a little bit fortunate to get the penalty but Adam tucked it away.
“We showed, first half, we were a lot better and tried to play the game the way it is supposed to be played. We had to dig in in the second half but did that equally well.”
For all their possession, Aberdeen struggled to capitalise and add cut to their thrust and Hearts had came close to a smash and grab job.
Nicholson rattled an effort off the bar and Aberdeen midfielder Willo Flood had to stop Callum Paterson’s header on the line before denying Osman Sow with the follow-up.
It was a fleeting example of what Hearts were capable. But it was not enough against a team who have had the beating of them in head to heads.