Aberdeen 2 - 0 St Johnstone: Niall McGinn’s season of pure thrill

Niall McGinn is challenged by Frazer Wright (left) and Dave Mackay (right). Picture: SNS
Niall McGinn is challenged by Frazer Wright (left) and Dave Mackay (right). Picture: SNS
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A well-taken double by Niall McGinn earned Aberdeen all three points at Pittodrie yesterday. They thoroughly deserved their win for playing good football in dreadful conditions, and but for Alan Mannus’ heroics in the St Johnstone goal, the Dons might well have won by five or six.

Scorers: Aberdeen - McGinn (63, 82)

Aberdeen thus leapfrogged St Johnstone and Hibs, who play Kilmarnock today, into fourth place in the SPL. Dons’ manager Craig Brown pointed out that they could join Motherwell on the same points level if they beat that former club of his at Fir Park on Boxing Day.

Played on a sodden pitch in a bitterly cold wind off the North Sea in rain that was constant and often torrential, the wonder is that the groundsmen got the game on at all, and congratulations to them for that.

Oil rigs shut down in better weather than we experienced at Pittodrie yesterday. Only insane masochists would elect to play or watch football in these conditions, and masochists are at least supposed to enjoy themselves, according to a

current bestseller.

This was Fifty Shades of Dreich, however, and there was little to enjoy for anyone at Pittodrie, Aberdeen deservedly winning. When players cannot perform, and fans risk hypothermia, the case for

summer football is unanswerable.

St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas summed it up: “The conditions were farcical. That wasn’t a game of football. I feel sorry for the fans who had to pay. For an entertainment product, there was no football played. There should be measures taken to avoid these

farcical situations.”

The masochism for the Aberdeen fans started as they took their seats and continued for more than an hour while they watched their side miss chance after glorious chance.

From the outset Aberdeen tried to play passing football, using the wings and reaping rich rewards while St Johnstone relied too much on the direct up-and-at-em route which was meat and drink to Russell Anderson and Mark Reynolds. Alongside them, attacking backs Clark Robertson and Joe Shaughnessy impressed

manager Brown, and rightly so.

Mannus was called into service after just six minutes, leaping to his right to parry away a McGinn effort. Seconds later Mitch Megginson’s shot was deflected just wide before Mannus came to the rescue again, just reaching a McGinn shot that was heading for the postage stamp of the corner.

Next to be defied were Rory Fallon and Anderson who saw Mannus clutch the ball away as either seemed set to score. Fallon also volleyed wide when the ball deflected to him off the useful Josh Magennis.

Frazer Wright could have put St Johnstone ahead after 34 minutes but his close-range effort went high over the bar. That preceded a serious contender for miss of the season when Magennis’ adroit cross put McGinn clean through and he shot straight at Mannus.

The second half started in much the same vein, Aberdeen making but not taking chances, McGinn’s 55th minute shot flashing across the goal and wide, leaving Mannus in its wake.

It would be cruel to apportion any blame to Mannus for Aberdeen’s opener after 63 minutes. He didn’t see McGinn’s free-kick from 25 yards until too late, and by then the ball had curled round the defensive wall and was heading for Mannus’s left corner.

Nor could the visitors’ goalkeeper be held accountable at all for McGinn’s second just under 20 minutes later, not least because Mannus had by then carried out a superb double save from Magennis and McGinn, and also foiled the

latter with a brilliant one-handed stop. The clinching goal was set up by teenage substitute Jamie Masson whose pass bisected the St Johnstone defence and went straight into McGinn’s path. The Northern Irish international striker kept his cool and slipped the ball past the helpless Mannus.

“Sometimes as a striker you get one of those seasons when everything you touch turns to gold,” said Rory Fallon, “and he is having one of those.”

Craig Brown resorted to that oldest of football cliches with the hint of a smile – “the conditions were the same for both teams” – but few neutrals would have begrudged him his final verdict: “That was a good Christmas present for the Aberdeen support.”

One final note: no one was booked so credit to the referee Stephen Finnie and all the players for the sense they showed on such an awful day.