Weaknesses can sometimes lie dormant and so it seems with Rangers. An old failing reared its head just when and where they did not want it to.
Two goals to the fore at Pittodrie, the visitors were relishing putting more pressure on Celtic at the top and also perhaps allowing their minds drift towards this weekend’s Betfred Cup final against their rivals.
Whatever lay behind the switch in tempo, it was not Aberdeen’s concern. They simply feasted on the unlikely invitation to get back into the game and earn the forgiveness of supporters who had watched aghast as Rangers strolled into a two-goal lead.
Goals from Jon Gallagher and Andrew Considine cancelled out those from Scott Arfield and Ryan Jack. Surprisingly given the prolific seasons being enjoyed by both, neither Sam Cosgrove nor Alfredo Morelos featured on the scoresheet - although the Colombian forward could, and probably should, have won a penalty for Rangers after being felled on the edge of the area by Lewis Ferguson.
Cosgrove, however, will rue a chance to give Aberdeen the lead after 71 minutes. He somehow managed to direct his effort wide from the edge of the six-yard box after Lewis Ferguson’s lofty corner.
What does this mean for Rangers? It’s a blow to confidence and reminder of their struggles of last season at precisely the wrong time. They fall two points behind Celtic, who they face at Hampden on Sunday. Perhaps manager Steven Gerrard will privately welcome his team being brought back to earth in such fashion. It highlights they are far from the finished article.
Aberdeen have had their troubles against Rangers, including a 5-0 defeat at Ibrox earlier this season, but rarely have they performed as abjectly as in the opening half hour here.
That this humiliation took place at Pittodrie, in front of their own, deepened the shame.
The fact Jack, once such a favourite at this ground, put Rangers into a seemingly unassailable lead after only 30 minutes, was another supremely aggravating detail.
You often hear of teams being derided for barely having got into their opponents’ half. It’s normally a figure of speech. But here in front of home fans who were quick to indicate their displeasure Aberdeen really did toil to achieve this meagre feat.
Rangers took advantage of this right to roam by scoring twice through Arfield and Jack, who tapped in in front of the Richard Donald stand before racing off to celebrate with the Rangers fans. Aberdeen looked completely done and their fans were on the verge of revolt – or walking out.
It did not long for their frustration to rise. James Tavernier was hit on his back by a pie after just three minutes. Shay Logan was booked for an awful challenge on Joe Aribo on the touchline. He could easily have seen red.
So it was all the more surprising when Aberdeen pulled a goal back after a rare foray forward. Gallagher, on loan from “strategic partners” Atlanta United and one of the home side’s poorest players to this point, managed to dig out a shot having seemed to have taken the ball too far round goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
Tavernier sought to chest the ball away and missed while Filip Helander, following up on the goal-line, only succeeded in helping the ball across the line. Somehow, with still six minutes to play until half-time, the hosts were back in it. Their only previous effort on goal worth noting was Lewis Ferguson’s speculative effort from distance after a rare mistake from Jack.
Otherwise, it was complete domination from Rangers. The visitors went ahead after 18 minutes when Gallagher gifted the ball to Joe Aribo, who released Tavernier down the right. His cut back was steered in from around eight yards by Arfield, with Aberdeen defenders seeming to be respecting some kind of exclusion zone around him.
It got worse just after the half hour mark. Rangers swept forward once more but once more they were helped on their way by more carelessness in possession from Aberdeen. Zak Vyner was the culprit on this occasion and Jack linked with Morelos, who in turn played a one-two with Ryan Kent before shooting from an angle. It was well enough hit but Joe Lewis should have gathered. He didn’t and Jack was handed the easiest chance to score under the noses of row upon row of horrified Aberdeen fans.
Some might have needed persuasion not to walk out. They got it eight minutes later when Cosgrove played in Gallagher, who did well to keep his balance under pressure but looked to have gone too far wide of goal. He was fleet-footed enough to turn and hit a shot back towards goal and past Tavernier. Helander simply helped the ball in.
Sometimes, the interval can come at the wrong time. Home fans might have feared this was the case here since their side had just managed to gain an unlikely foothold on the game. But Aberdeen re-emerged with renewed intent. Rangers, meanwhile, still seemed to be processing the fact they had a match on their hands.
Cosgrove almost capitalised on an error two minutes after the break but the equaliser was only delayed sixty seconds or so. It was sourced from a throw-in by Logan. Ferguson’s cross found Cosgrove, whose shot on the turn deflected off Helander into the path of Considine, who steered home.