GOALS by David Goodwillie and substitute Cammy Smith took Aberdeen to the top of the Premiership table and now the real challenge is to stay there for as long as possible.
Scorers: Aberdeen: Goodwillie 6, Smith 90
They certainly have the opportunity to do that for a lot longer than seemed apparent just hours before the kick-off at Pittodrie yesterday.
On this form there is no reason why they can’t maintain what many will consider an unlikely challenge to the defending champions as they simply dominated St Johnstone virtually from start to finish. It’s now eight league wins in their last nine games and six in a row without even conceding a goal, their best run in 23 years and surely the sort of form a credible threat is built on.
This is now the latest stage of any season that Aberdeen have been top of the table since May 1991 when Alex Smith’s side led Rangers going into a fateful final day.
A draw at Ibrox would have been enough to bring the championship trophy back to Pittodrie but they suffered a crushing 2-0 defeat and the rest is history.
How McInnes and the current generation of the club’s supporters would love to take it all the way to the last day of this campaign.
However, you get the feeling the Dons manager would still be carefully claiming that the title was Celtic’s to lose given his naturally-pragmatic approach to the situation.
The news filterering through from Glasgow that Celtic’s players would be enjoying a holiday like most other people didn’t help that quest.
All of a sudden the prospect changed from the possibility of a few hours as league leaders to one that could conceivably stretch deep into the month and beyond.
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright admitted his goalkeeper spared them a spanking at Pittodrie.
“I would have liked Alan Mannus to have a quieter day and I thought Alan and the back four were outstanding,” he said.
“One or two players may have lost a bit of their edge but we just did not start the game well and they dominated us. We made it far too easy for Aberdeen. If you don’t play well against a good side like Aberdeen then you get your backsides spanked and that is what happened to us.”
Aberdeen played with pace, penetration and a movement that the visitors struggled to come to terms with, particularly during a blistering opening phase. St Johnstone actually came into the game on a six-match winning streak and were undefeated in their last eight league games since losing at home to Kiilmarnock in mid-October.
They were not allowed to settle into any sort of attacking rhythm themselves yesterday, though, as they were hemmed in their own half for lengthy spells during the opening 45 minutes.
It had taken just seven of those minutes for their highly-motivated hosts to edge in front, with a sublime piece of skill by Goodwillie required to get the better of Mannus.
The striker’s chest trap from Niall McGinn’s cross brought the ball under control and an extravagant overhead kick sent it soaring into the net with the aid of a slight deflection. That was Goodwillie’s first goal since October but he should have increased that tally just a few minutes later in the aftermath of Chris Millar’s caution for pulling back Jonny Hayes.
The midfielder took the resulting free kick, picking out an unmarked Goodwillie who guided his header wastefully wide of the target from 12 yards.
For the rest of the half, Aberdeen found Mannus a frustratingly barrier to their ambitions.
Goodwillie did beat the Northern Ireland international keeper from the edge of the area with a neat spin and shot but that also just beat the far post on its way past while Peter Pawlett handled before putting the ball into the net. That was well spotted by referee Craig Thomson as his assistant on that side was no help at all, but the fragility of a single-goal lead was made clear in the last action before the break.
Wright’s side won a corner that Aberdeen didn’t defend with any great authority, only for Scott Brown to extend his unbeaten record by blocking Steven Anderson’s overhead kick.
It was warning that clearly registered as, if anything, they played with an even greater intensity at the start of the second half with the Perth side’s goal continuing to live a charmed life.
Quite how it took Aberdeen until stoppage time to finally confirm their victory must be the only concern for their manager given the number of chances scorned.
It was left to substitute Smith to finally confirm the inevitable when Adam Rooney turned provider, evading the offside trap as Saints pressed for an unlikely leveller.
His cross found the unmarked Smith who was assured enough to steer his shot beyond the, for once, helpless Mannus.
Aberdeen: Brown, Logan, Taylor, Reynolds, Considine, McGinn (Monakana 80), Pawlett (Smith 76), Jack, Hayes, Goodwillie (Shankland 76), Rooney. Subs not used: Langfield, Murray, Gibbons, Wright.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Anderson, Wright, Miller, Croft (McDonald 57), Millar (Davidson 70), Lappin, O’Halloran, Wotherspoon, MacLean (McFadden 58). Subs not used: Scobbie, Banks, Caddis, Brown.