Dundee United 1-3 Aberdeen: Vernon scores three

Hat-trick hero Scott Vernon celebrates after putting the game beyond Dundee United. Picture: SNS
Hat-trick hero Scott Vernon celebrates after putting the game beyond Dundee United. Picture: SNS
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THREE goals by Scott Vernon killed off Dundee United’s hopes of finishing in the top three and set up the prospect of a final day shootout with Motherwell for the honour of ending the campaign in second place.

Scorers: Dundee United - Dillon (34); Aberdeen - Vernon (7, 55, 76)

Two of the teams of the season, one has a trophy in the bag, the other is one game away from bagging the only remaining piece of domestic silverware. But when it comes to the league, Aberdeen’s consistency has reaped rewards in the Premiership, United haven’t been quite close enough and it has been an accumulation of the little things that has separated them over the course of the campaign. Last night the most telling difference was the goalkeepers. While Jamie Langfield pulled off several cracking saves to offer the men in front of him a foundation to build on, at the other end, the switch in personnel proved less than convincing.

Marc McCallum was starting instead of the No 1 Radoslaw Cierzniak and he looked far from comfortable. Partly culpable at the second goal, he was left high and dry for the third, the communication between him and his defence poor.

The final score left Aberdeen in the driving seat for finishing second and providing them with the bonus of a later start in Europe and a longer holiday. For United it also helped crystalise matters. They now need to rely on victory in the Scottish Cup final if they want their shot at qualifying for the Europa League next season.

Aberdeen, whose squad strength had been tested, with winger Johnny Hayes starting at left back, took the lead in the opening minutes and it was a goal carved out cleanly and finished clnically, the decisive break upfield finished by Scott Vernon after he peeled off slightly and drove an angled shot under the goalkeeper. It was an early example of where McCallum could have done better and it seemed to feed his nerves.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has already completed a treble with two Manager of the Year awards to go with the League Cup but the chance to secure second place in the Premiership was one he didn’t want his men to pass up. They did let United back into things, though.

Having lost Willo Flood to an injury he desperately tried to run off before collapsing to the turf, United got a lift when captain Sean Dillon levelled the score. Nadir Ciftci and Stuart Armstrong combined and sent the delivery into the box. He took it on his right, cut on to his left and then sent in a strike that was deflected past Langfield.

It was the Irishman’s first goal since 2010 and was enough to give the home side the belief that they could get something from the game. They might have done had it not been for the Aberdeen ’keeper.

Ryan Dow’s cross gave Andy Roberston an opening but his strike was superbly saved by Langfield and then a few minutes later he followed that up with another top-quality intervention, denying Mark Wilson.

But it was Aberdeen who found the breakthrough next. McCallum had given away a corner and when it was whipped in by Barry Robson, Scott Vernon was at the back post to bullet a header into the net.

United were unlucky to have a goal disallowed and combined with Langfield’s heroics, they will feel hard done by, especially when Abredeen went on to add a third in the 75th minute. It was Vernon who capitalised when a long ball from Langfield was left by Gunning and when it dropped into the area between the defender and the young ’keeper, the striker was able to finish. It was a hard one for United to take but it summed up Aberdeen’s transformation this season and showed why they will finish the season as best of the rest behind Celtic.

Dundee United: McCallum, Dillon, Souttar, Gunning, Robertson, Armstrong, Wilson (El Alagui 70), Gomis, Dow (Scott Smith 86),Graham, Ciftci. Subs Not Used: Cierzniak, Watson, Gauld, Connolly, Fraser.

Aberdeen: Langfield, Jack, Reynolds, Anderson, Logan, Robson, Flood (Smith 31), Pawlett, McGinn (Tate 74), Hayes, Vernon (Zola 88). Subs Not Used: Rose, Weaver, McManus, Murray.

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