The winter shutdown has done nothing to interrupt Aberdeen’s momentum as Derek McInnes’ side made it five wins in a row and their second since returning from their sunshine break in Dubai.
The Friday night scheduling means Derek McInnes’ side have a few hours at least to enjoy leapfrogging Rangers into second place. Dundee, meanwhile, will look on anxiously as the four teams below them in the league seek to drag the Dens Park side back into the relegation mire.
It might have been so different. Dundee’s Craig Wighton saw a goal dubiously ruled out for offside and Paul McGowan’s instinctive if curious hooked effort bashed back off the bar before Aberdeen took firm control, with Niall McGinn taking centre stage.
The Northern Irishman scored twice, including a contender for goal of the season, after skipper Ryan Jack headed Aberdeen in front just before the half-hour mark.
New loan signing Ryan Christie made a second-half substitute appearance on a night when things went well enough for humour to be applied following the furore over his abusive tweet from several years ago. “We’re only sheep sh***ing b******s,” sang the Aberdeen fans, content in the knowledge that three points were already in the bag.
The only unease surrounding Pittodrie was rooted in the home fans’ fear that they would be witnessing the last appearance of key players, with Jonny Hayes the subject of most speculation.
The opposition certainly didn’t merit such anxiety. Not only were Dundee still reeling after a home defeat to Championship basement dwellers St Mirren in the Scottish Cup last weekend, they hadn’t won at Pittodrie since 2004.
There was very little chance of this changing from the moment McGinn put Aberdeen two ahead on the stroke of half-time with a strike that relied on inspiration together with no little skill.
The winger brought down Ash Taylor’s header with his right thigh and then struck a shot on the volley with his left foot. The ball hadn’t even touched the ground after keeper Joe Lewis’ punt forward, which added another measure of distinction to an already memorable finish.
McGinn’s effort needed to be good to beat the in-form Scott Bain, and it was. No goalkeeper in the world would have had an earthly as the ball rebounded off the Dundee goalkeeper’s far post into the net.
The goal had the added worth to Aberdeen of all but finishing Dundee off in what was still the opening half – just. The visitors barely had time to kick off again before they were trudging towards the tunnel in the corner for a half-time team talk from Paul Hartley that was now concerned with retrieving a two-goal deficit. It never seemed likely.
But a decent away following from Dundee had been provided with reasons for optimism in the opening stages. The visitors kept play in the Aberdeen end and might have opening the scoring in just four minutes when Marcus Haber prodded Wighton’s cross towards the corner. But Lewis got down well to save.
The Aberdeen goalkeeper had no chance of stopping McGowan’s lob from 30 yards just five minutes later and so was grateful to see the bar come to his aid. The Dundee supporters roared their approval as their side, robbed of pre-match injury victim Kevin Holt and playing a right-back, Cammy Kerr, at left-back to compensate, took the game to Aberdeen.
But it couldn’t last. The home side were chasing second spot in the league and were not likely to remain so ineffectual. But when they did rouse themselves they found Bain a tough opponent to beat. The keeper saved one-handed from Mark Reynolds and then turned McGinn’s shot past the post. Perhaps the pick of his saves was a free-kick he tipped over from the same player, although McGinn wasn’t to be denied for long.
Aberdeen had also hit the post through Hayes, linked with a move to Cardiff City, by the time they went ahead after 29 minutes. McGinn was the architect, teasing Nick Ross on the left before sending in a cross that Jack met in the middle of the goal. The midfielder is not renowned for his aerial prowess and it showed – his back header might not have been intentional but it got Aberdeen off the mark. Bain had already denied Kenny McLean with a one handed stop before McGinn put Aberdeen into a commanding position with one of the finest goals of the season. It brought cheer to the home stands but served to deflate Dundee to the extent that they never seemed like repeating their three-goal comeback against Hearts just prior to Christmas. McGinn’s header with ten minutes left, following good work from Hayes, put this beyond doubt.