Ross County 0-1 Aberdeen: Own goal gives Dons win
Scorers: Quinn 56′ (og)
It was a thoroughly-deserved victory, worthy of a greater winning margin, with Paul Quinn’s agonising own goal a weak reflection of the Dons’ overall dominance.
There was much to merit in County’s spirit and defensive resilience, although it was a fraught night for their back four and back-tracking midfield men in a defeat that kept the Highlanders pinned to bottom spot behind ailing Motherwell.
Particularly in the second half, Derek McInnes’s fluent front four seemed back to their best and Jonny Hayes proved, in particular, a constant creative thorn in the home team’s side.
Pelting rain gave way to drizzle by kick-off, with County’s emergency summer drainage work working a treat where it had failed abysmally last season.
But before too long it was hammering down again, making for tricky footing throughout a frantic, full-blooded encounter.
Having only just resisted a deluge of a different sort at Pittodrie last time out, escaping with a slightly flattering 3-0 defeat, County were clear underdogs.
But this was no happy hunting ground for the Dons – given that record of having failed to win on each of three previous Dingwall visits.
A flu bug deprived County of captain Richie Brittain, allowing recent signing Martin Woods – the 28-year-old Scot of vast English league experience – to make a first start in the country of his birth.
McInnes had successfully deployed a more controlled, pragmatic approach in the League Cup revenge-act against Hamilton Accies, having been hammered in surprising fashion by the same opponents in the league.
There was similar patience and restraint in attacking intent before the break last night, but the Dons chipped away consistently at the home defence throughout a first half they mostly controlled.
Often, the greatest menace came from the toes and explosive considerable of Hayes.
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The former Caley Thistle winger revelled in the rain and taunts from the home stands, always quick to react to the probing passing of Willo Flood and Peter Pawlett and the hungry movement of countryman Adam Rooney.
There were County palpitations as one Adam Rooney header squirmed from home keeper Mark Brown’s grasp and was hacked clear by Paul Quinn.
Resisting stoutly under pressure, County saw a Shay Logan strike from 20 yards rise over the bar and into the Jail End, while Brown also scooped at Rooney’s feet close-in after another Hayes’ delivery.
County’s first-half forays were far rarer but they were not without threat – Quinn towering high and unchallenged to angle a firm header just wide from a Michael Gardyne cross with six minutes of first-half action remaining. Perhaps the best move of the half came almost on the whistle, with Rooney supplying Niall McGinn from deep and heading the cleverly-returned ball just off target.
Briefly, there was better from Jim McIntyre’s men after the break. Like Hayes, County’s Gardyne began to carve spaces with determined running and inventive use of the ball – only for County to be caught with a sucker-punch.
Scott Boyd’s careless stray pass allowed McGinn to flight in a dangerous cross and as recent signing Quinn went to make the clearance under pressure from Rooney, he could only smack a header past his own keeper.
Buoyed and buzzing, the Dons sought to capitalise further. Moments later, Mark Reynolds’ cut-back was side-footed over the bar by Andrew Considine.
Lewis Toshney then committed clumsy foul on Hayes to the left of the box as he slalomed towards the by-line.
Hayes cut the free-kick hard and low across goal, with no takers. The hosts were clinging on by their fingertips as Pawlett grazed the angle of bar and post from just inside the box in another lucky escape for County. Still, McIntyre was positive – throwing on a third substitute inside 68 minutes with striker Liam Boyce introduced to join fellow substitute Jake Jervis in a bolstered attack.
Boyce skied an early sight of goal but, at the other end, it was turning into shooting practice as McInnes’s men queued up, although the Dons seemed to need some as Pawlett’s latest effort on the run arced over from square on goal.
Adding to County woes, Darren Barr took a hefty knock, hobbling back into action after a few minutes’ treatment.
Ross County: Brown, Toshney, P Quinn, Boyd, Barr, Gardyne (Boyce 67), Irvine (Cardle 61), Kiss, Carey, Woods, Arquin (Jervis 61). Subs not used: Reckord, Reguero, Frempah, Dingwall.
Aberdeen: Brown, Logan, Taylor, Reynolds, Considine, Jack, Flood, McGinn, Pawlett (Robson 86), Hayes (Monakana 90), Rooney (Goodwillie 83). Subs not used: Langfield, Smith, Shankland, McKenna.
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