St Johnstone 0 - 1 Aberdeen: Dons emerge from lockdown to land first victory
Sir Alf Ramsey’s England were the wingless wonders. Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen took it to the other extreme.
He sent on Connor McLennan and Matty Kennedy at half-time to increase his contingent of wingers to four – five if you included Jonny Hayes. No number of wide players playing in and out of position could hide the fact McInnes was trying to operate without an authentic striker due to injury but late substitute Ryan Hedges – yes, another winger – emerged as the matchwinner.
Aberdeen’s personnel problems were compounded by the Covid-19 related issues that had forced the original game between these sides to be postponed. McInnes’ side were far from wondrous it has to be said but then there were plenty of mitigating factors. They will treat this as a precious if rather ugly win after a challenging fortnight. Hedges’ winner after 81 minutes flew past an unsighted Elliott Parish having taken a nick off St Johnstone’s Liam Gordon.
McInnes had asked for his players to get the club’s season up and running after the attendant issues which caused three matches to be postponed.
Aberdeen began the process of catching up last night. They are already up to eighth from second bottom. Hedges was the perhaps unlikely hero though it was not surprising that yet another winger was responsible for securing the three points. Hedges replaced McGinn – winger for winger – after 79 minutes.
Two minutes in, he set off up the right following a lay-off from fellow substitute Craig Bryson. He then drove in from the right before unleashing a left footed shot that deflected into the net off Gordon. Aberdeen saw out the rest of the match fairly comfortably against a shot-shy St Johnstone side.
Callum Davidson is clearly building something of note in Perth but their ambitions will be restricted by the absence of an out-and-out goalscorer.
After all the pre-match debate, it was Lewis Ferguson who occupied the centre-forward role for Aberdeen, whose personnel problems had accumulated in this particular area. Well, there is a nine in the No 19 shirt number Ferguson wears. McLennan took over from him in the second half.
Ferguson had done a decent job for the most part, but it was painfully apparent he was a centre midfielder trying to make the best of things up front and he moved back to his preferred position at the start of the second half.
Niall McGinn and Scott Wright were on either side of him in the first half. New signing Ross McCrorie, who McInnes said he was looking forward to deploying in central midfield on the eve of the match, played on the right of a back three.
Discounting these positional quirks, it looked a reasonably strong Aberdeen side despite everything.
Hayes was the only one of the so-called Aberdeen eight to make the starting XI which says everything about his natural fitness and ability to get up and down the line. He had trained mostly by himself since making that ill-judged decision to attend a night out with seven teammates. Fellow miscreants Dylan McGeouch, Bryson and Kennedy started on the bench.
Indeed, Davidson might have looked at the Aberdeen side with some amount of envy. He is delivering the attractive side he promised upon replacing Tommy Wright, but is hamstrung by a limited squad size. Nevertheless, there are some promising signs for the Perth side. In Danny McNamara, the on- loan wing back from Millwall, they have someone who is adept at catching the eye with his forward bursts.
One of these led to Joe Lewis pulling off the save of the first half after McNamara cut inside before testing the keeper from 20 yards. Lewis tipped the ball over. McGinn had a rather weaker effort at the other end which Parish dealt with comfortably. Aberdeen’s other chance came when Funso Ojo volleyed over from Hayes’ back post cross after Wright had carried the ball forward before spreading the play out to the left.
Given this scant number of attempts on goal in the opening 45 minutes, it was certainly not worth the wait of almost a fortnight for the game to take place. Things hardly improved in the second half either. McInnes brought on McLennan and Kennedy, the former St Johnstone winger, for Ronnie Hernandez, who had been operating on the right of a midfield four, and Dean Campbell.
Ash Taylor and Tommie Hoban, playing his first match since February last year, both came close to connecting with McGinn’s free kick from the left as the rain teemed down midway through the second half. Shortly afterwards McInnes made another change with Bryson replacing Ojo. St Johnstone sent on Craig Conway for Callum Hendry at the same time. Little was changing. Play was going from side to side but there was little incisiveness from either side.
McInnes’ next change proved a pivotal one. With his last goal having come in November, perhaps not everyone expected Hedges to emerge the matchwinner when he bumped elbows with McGinn, whom he replaced with 11 minutes left. Another winger, he was able to bring some goal menace as well. He still had plenty to do after Bryson gave him the ball and he drifted in from the right before shooting through a mass of players in the box. It might not have beaten Parish were it not for a deflection that Aberdeen will treat as some blessed fortune in a trying period. St Johnstone will be within their rights to wonder what might have happened had the game been played when it was meant to take place, when Aberdeen had even fewer options.
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