Kilmarnock - 1
Aberdeen - 2
Rooney (39), Smith (69)
Referee: J Beaton
It was their seventh successive win over yesterday’s opponents but few of those previous matches will have been as close as this encounter.
The accepted wisdom has it that when spin doctors become the story, their usefulness has been outlived – the same is true for referees.
John Beaton did not have a good day at the office yesterday. Unfortunately, it was no worse than some recent displays by Willie Collum and Craig Thomson and one is entitled to start a debate about the decline in the quality of officiating in this country.
His eccentric interpretations of the laws of the game were certainly central to the outcome here.
Both sides had made three changes from their previous outing; Kilmarnock replaced Ross Barbour, Paul Cairney and Lee Miller with Sammy Clingan, Craig Slater and Alexei Eremenko, while Aberdeen left out Ash Taylor, Barry Robson and Peter Pawlett in favour of Donervon Daniels, Cammy Smith and Kenny McLean.
The visitors came close to drawing first blood in the eighth minute when Adam Rooney stole in front of his marker to meet a curling cross from Niall McGinn and send a glancing header inches wide of the far post.
Kilmarnock goalkeeper Craig Samson has been his side’s most impressive performer this season and he proved his worth again six minutes later.
The pressure from Aberdeen was unrelenting, but the veteran’s reflexes were not found wanting as he kept out a netbound volley from Smith.
However, a questionable decision by Beaton denied the hosts an opening goal midway through the first half.
Daryl Westlake’s incisive pass released Tope Obadeyi on the left and the Englishman used his pace and strength to shrug off a despairing challenge from Willo Flood and leave himself with only Scott Brown to beat. To the dismay of the home support, though, Beaton halted the play for a foul on Flood which was not obvious to anyone else in the stadium.
His call assumed even greater significance when the Dons broke the deadlock six minutes before the interval.
McGinn flighted a free-kick into the corridor of uncertainty between the goalkeeper and his defenders, Daniels met it at the back stick and Rooney supplied the finishing touch from close range to claim his 26th goal of the season. He has now scored against all 11 top-tier clubs this campaign and it was, in truth, no more than Aberdeen deserved for a positive first-half display.
Yet they found themselves pegged back in Kilmarnock’s first attack after the restart.
There was no apparent danger when Obadeyi rolled the ball inside to Slater some 30 yards out, yet the midfielder was determined to do damage.
With no-one seemingly interested in closing him down, he took a few strides and then unleashed a fierce drive which beat Brown low to his right.
McGinn then might have had a penalty kick when he was sent tumbling by a clumsy challenge from Lee Ashcroft but, on this occasion, Beaton gave Killie the benefit of the doubt.
They almost took advantage of his generosity on the hour mark when Josh Magennis climbed above Mark Reynolds to meet a cross from Chris Johnston and Brown required two attempts to hold the Irishman’s header.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Aberdeen regained the lead, the match official once again found himself at the centre of controversy.
Magennis had clearly been fouled from behind by Reynolds, but play was allowed to continue, McGinn raced to the byline and whipped in a cross which was firmly headed home by Smith.
To add insult to injury, Westlake had his name taken for dissent immediately afterwards.
Yet the goal seemed to galvanise Kilmarnock more than it did Derek McInnes’ men.
Perhaps fired up by a sense of injustice, they surged forward and Chris Johnston wasn’t too far away with a dipping 25-yarder. They ought to have equalised in the final minute when Brown rushed from his line in an attempt to claim a loose ball and was harshly adjudged to have fouled substitute Miller.
With regular penalty-taker Eremenko having already been replaced by then, Slater stepped up to take the spot-kick.
His effort lacked conviction, though, and Brown was left with a comfortable save and Aberdeen left Ayrshire with all three points.
Gary Locke, meanwhile, has now lost all three games since he was confirmed as Kilmarnock’s manager and he now takes his players to Parkhead on Wednesday as they seek the points they require to ensure that they do not find themselves dragged into the play-offs.
Kilmarnock: Samson; O’Hara, Ashcroft, Syme, Westlake; Clingan (Eccleston 85), Slater; Johnston, Eremenko (McKenzie 72), Obadeyi (Miller 72); Magennis. Subs not used: Brennan, Barbour, Cairney, Kiltie.
Aberdeen: Brown; Logan, Daniels, Reynolds, Considine; Flood (Jack 75), Smith (Pawlett 83); McGinn, McLean, Hayes; Rooney (Shankland 87). Subs not used: Langfield, Taylor, Robson, Goodwillie.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS