Steve Clarke might have had an altogether opinion, but it was difficult not to feel sorry for referee Steven McLean. While the Kilmarnock manager, in quietly withering fashion, declared that the official had produced the worst refereeing performance he had witnessed in nearly 40 years in the sport, McLean was given an impossible task by the violent intent exhibited by both sides from the off.
It was nasty, brutish and descended into a brawl that masqueraded as football in hideously short order. What said everything about the afternoon’s events was Scott McKenna’s post-match media conference. “It’s always difficult when tackles fly in, and teams are leaving a bit in on each other but I thought the ref got the sendings off right,” he said of the serrated edge to the encounter. Only when he was heading to the media room door, did the centre-back look back and petition: “Did you forget about my goal?”
The oversight was an easy one. McKenna’s 67th minute pinpoint header from a Graeme Shinnie inswinging cross delivered with ease because no Kilmarnock player got a block on him, allowed Aberdeen to gain a three point advantage in the race to finish third.
But it was the home team finishing the day with a third player banished by McLean that claimed the focus. Kilmarnock’s support were left fuming not only by McLean’s actions, but his inaction. The growling between the teams was given impetus by Sam Cosgrove getting away with a grapple on Findlay just after the half hour, and just after he had been booked. Instead, the Kilmarnock defender had his name taken, which had serious consequences later on for both. Derek McInnes withdrew Cosgrove at half time to prevent him being sent off, while Finday’s day was ended by an 84th-minute second booking after a late tackle that led to Shinnie sustaining ankle damage. An injury the Aberdeen manager said afterwards could end his season - and, as a result, may mean he has played his last game for the club, with a freedom of contract move to Derby County being mooted.
The tumult was ramped up as the interval approached, though. Broadfoot attempted to bustle in to get a boot to a ball he had miscontrolled when through on Joe Lewis. As the Aberdeen keeper collected he stretched out his leg and jabbed over the ball, catching him in the face in reckless fashion.
McKenna admitted Aberdeen may have kept themselves in check after suffering two red-cards after their zealous approach in the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic, but they were hardly innocent bystanders.
Never more so than when one of the men that saw red at Hampden, Dom Ball, tangled with McKenzie in added time. With both players on the deck, Ball seemed to heabutt McKenzie’s thigh before the Kilmarnock midfielder kicked out at him in retaliation. With McLean punishing only the home player, with a straight red, it was the day in microcosm.
McInnes, who said Shinnie’s ankle was “no good” and a “bit of a mess” felt his side were rewarded for keeping their “calmness”,”
“I had a feeling it would be a 1-0 game and chances would be at a premium,” he said. “There was a lot of challenges and competitiveness shown by both sets of players. We’ve scored the only goal with a brilliant header from big McKenna. Nothing is settled but it’s three very important points. We’ve got work to do against the teams to come [with Rangers at Ibrox next week]. If anyone thought our season finished last week at Hampden, the appetite of my players illustrates the opposite of that.” And it illustrated that the worst of games can have the most compelling, if eye-bleeding, moments.