Adam Rooney reinforced his importance to Aberdeen with the goal that took them back to within four points of second-placed Rangers ahead of the Ibrox club’s visit to Perth.
It was the Irishman’s instincts around the penalty box that finally delivered the Dons’ winner against Hamilton Accies after 68 minutes where, despite dominating for long spells, the home side had struggled to convert superior possession and technique into a tangible reward.
Substitute James Maddison created the opportunity with a shot from 20 yards and when Gary Woods spilled the ball Rooney reacted sharply to stab the rebound home for his 11th goal of another productive season.
That’s despite the fact that, like a lot of his team-mates, Rooney hasn’t been able to consider himself an automatic choice for the team given the greater depth to the squad Derek McInnes has assembled.
However that can bring its own problems and it’s significant the Aberdeen manager named the same starting line-up in successive matches for the first time since they defeated Partick Thistle and Caley Thistle in early November.
For example, it’s worth noting that, with the exception of Joe Lewis between the sticks, this was largely the starting XI that served McInnes so well last season.
This was always going to be the sort of fixture that was likely to help Aberdeen keep in touch with Rangers as Hamilton remain the only side in senior Scottish league football without an away win to their credit this season.
A major reason for that was all-too-clear as the visitors looked clueless when it came to defending set pieces, which Aberdeen won with startling regularity given the way Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn tortured them down the flanks.
Especially on the Dons’ left wing as Louis Longridge was often left chasing shadows. The only surprise was that it took McInnes’s men 34 minutes to make the breakthrough against a side who make up in passion what they lacked in composure.
Hamilton had certainly lived a charmed life up to that point, with Andrew Considine, Mark Reynolds and Ash Taylor all going close to scoring while defenders like Michael Devlin, Grant Gillespie and Scott McMann made some desperate clearances.
However, Accies poor marking defending corners and free kicks was always likely to be their undoing and so it proved when Darian MacKinnon pushed Hayes over as the winger threatened to burst clear again.
The Republic of Ireland international whipped over the resulting kick, straight on to the head of Taylor, who had strolled clear of his marker to guide in a free header from the penalty spot.
Perhaps Taylor was still mentally celebrating what was only his second goal of the season as what happened next threatened to spoil the centre-back’s day. Just moments after his goal, Taylor weakly surrendering possession to Danny Redmond while last man.
The Hamilton midfielder took advantage to sprint into the penalty box where he went down in a collision with Lewis, which earned the Aberdeen goalkeeper a yellow card and left Dougie Imrie to score the equaliser from the resulting penalty.
There was late drama as Hamilton’s McMann was sent off for hauling Hayes to the turf and then Woods made a fine double save to keep out an Aberdeen side that will travel to Tynecastle on Friday in good spirits.