Some teams bring out the best in each other just as others can bring out the worst. Remember Aberdeen v Hibernian clashes from recent seasons? No? Don’t worry, few do. There was a series of games between the clubs that produced precious few goals and provoked the urge in many of those in attendance to scratch their own eyes out.
Aberdeen and Dundee, however, are a better dynamic at present. There’s rarely a dull moment. In three games between the teams already this season, 14 goals have been scored – and the majority have been very good ones. Of course, entertainment is not currently a priority for title-chasing Aberdeen; winning is. It’s something they were managing to do fairly relentlessly until Saturday, when Dundee, their recent Scottish Cup conquerors, came to town.
On this last meeting Dundee earned a 2-1 victory courtesy of a last-minute winner from David Clarkson on a breathless afternoon of football. Earlier in the season Aberdeen had taken the honours by winning 3-2 in Dundee. After that game both managers marvelled at the attacking intent on display, although Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes also despaired at the defensive lapses allowing Dundee to equalise on two occasions. The next game saw Aberdeen concede three more goals to Hamilton Accies. But since then their defence has tightened to the extent that they have conceded only twice in the league in 11 outings, including eight consecutive victories to nil. Until Saturday, that is. If you are to see a winning run of games come to an end, then securing what might yet count as a precious point by scoring twice in the last six minutes is among the better ways to do it. The jeers – and there were a few of them at half-time – turned to cheers. Rather than view it as two points dropped, McInnes was upbeat afterwards, as were most Aberdeen fans. The run, they probably figured, had to end sometime. Why not with a six-goal thriller? And by grabbing a draw from the jaws of defeat?
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Roll on 21 March, the next time these sides are due to play against each other. One wonders where Aberdeen might be then. They now know that a win for Celtic on Wednesday night against Motherwell would see them drop back to second place but then they also have the chance to reclaim top spot on Friday night, at St Johnstone.
By the time their next appointment with Dundee comes around the little matter of a clash with Celtic will have been negotiated, at the end of next month. The landscape could well be a lot different. But Saturday proved a telling indication of the Pittodrie side’s staying power and their obduracy. The point earned might yet prove to be a very significant one, as McInnes commented afterwards. Aberdeen could be harder to knock off their perch in the long term, even if Celtic do take occupancy of the summit later this week.
“You have to give Aberdeen credit, they are up there for a reason and on merit,” said disappointed Dundee centre-half Iain Davidson afterwards while clutching the crumpled shirt of David Goodwillie, a former team-mate from their days together at Raith Rovers. It was Goodwillie who got Aberdeen up and running with an early goal. Such was Dundee’s meekness at this point, it seemed only a matter of waiting until referee Alan Muir blew the final whistle before Aberdeen’s ninth victory in succession could be struck up.
But that was failing to take into account Dundee’s record of scoring in every game bar one this season. It was also underestimating the new-found appetite full-back Gary Irvine – or ‘The White Cafu’, as some Dundee fans now know him – has for scoring. Without a goal for Dundee since 2011, he now has three in five games, with the latest being a wonderful finish from Luka Tankulic’s lay off. But it was bettered by Greg Stewart’s interchange with Tankulic and first-time finish just two minutes later. Remarkably, Dundee scored a third goal in a ten-minute spell either side of half-time through Gary Harkins’ deflected volley.
McInnes could not be too critical of a defence that has gone so long without conceding, and made several references to Dundee’s “well-worked” goals. He could also be satisfied at the impact made by his substitutes, particularly Lawrence Shankland. The teenager came on for Adam Rooney and helped turn the game, winning a penalty after an injudicious challenge from Kostadin Gadzhalov and then contributing to the melee at the end that saw Ryan Jack thump home the equaliser in injury-time. “It was a penalty, I was clipped and I expected it to be given,” Shankland said later when asked about the award that set up such a frantic conclusion.
With 19 goals already for the Under 20s, he might have taken the kick himself, but was content to see Johnny Hayes rifle the ball into the net. It set up a memorable finish and means we await the next episode in this compelling North-east drama with much anticipation.
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