A devastating two-minute period put Aberdeen’s ability to take the Scottish Premiership title race down to the wire in serious doubt, leaving Derek McInnes’ hopefuls with one belief and one fact from which to seek solace.
The belief is that, among the Aberdeen players, they’re confident the title race is not over yet. They may have capitulated to Motherwell in a manner unbefitting of champions, but they’ve been written off so many times this season, and on every occasion they’ve found a route back into the fight. Sometimes they do it themselves, other times it’s been handed to them by Celtic.
Regardless, with seven games remaining (eight for Celtic) there’s still time for another twist in this tale. Which leads us on to the fact: Celtic still have to travel to Motherwell prior to the split. With the way Motherwell are playing at the moment, that is far from a cut and dried three points for Ronny Deila’s men. Against Celtic’s title rivals, the hosts turned a 1-0 deficit, brought about by a Kenny McLean penalty after Kieran Kennedy fouled Jonny Hayes, into a 2-1 lead within the blinking of an eye. First Scott McDonald headed over Scott Brown from close range, then Louis Moult flicked a finish over the Aberdeen keeper to complete the turnaround. A short time later, Barry Robson saw red for an elbow on McDonald, ending Aberdeen’s hopes of victory.
While the win may have arrived in unusual circumstances, it was no fluke result. After a rough opening period, Motherwell more than matched Aberdeen for the rest of the match, demonstrating that Fir Park is once again a feared away destination.
Prior to a midweek trip to Tannadice last month, Motherwell occupied the same dreaded relegation play-off spot they dropped into last season. Since then they’ve won five from six and, after Dundee’s draw against rivals Dundee United, look favourites for a top-six place. Confidence is brimming throughout the club, and it will remain high when Celtic come to town on 9 April. After all, they’re the only side to defeat the league leaders at Celtic Park this season.
“We definitely believe we can beat Celtic. We’ve already done the hard thing. We’ve beaten them at their place. We can beat them here, 100 per cent,” insisted goalscorer Moult. “I was asked the question the other day of whether we could go and beat Aberdeen and I said, ‘yeah, I honestly believe we can beat Aberdeen’. We went to their place and drew 1-1. It was a disappointing first half today. I felt we were too deep and didn’t get about them enough but second half showed what we were all about: passion.
“At half-time there were a few words said then second half we came out a different team. We pressed higher up the pitch and deserved the win, definitely second half anyway.” Over the tannoy it was announced that Moult was Motherwell’s man of the match while he was receiving a standing ovation from the crowd as he was being substituted. His winner wasn’t the prettiest goal you’re likely to see, neither of them were, though it demonstrated qualities in the striker that have made him a firm favourite with the Fir Park support: hard work, determination and a ruthless eye for goal. While Aberdeen defender Mark Reynolds should have dealt with the danger by thumping the ball into the stands, it was Moult’s pressure which unsettled the centre-back, and he made the wrong option of trying to shepherd it back to Brown. When Brown advanced, Moult got his leg in between the pair and lifted the ball over the goalkeeper. It was his 18th goal of the campaign.
“I didn’t want to give him a second on the ball,” said Moult. “I kind of knew, with the bounce, that it was going to hold up because the pitch got a bit dry. I read the bounce and lucky enough for me I’ve managed to get my toe on it. It seemed to go in slow motion before it hit the back of the net.”