ABERDEEN ensured they continue to tailgate the congested group of teams at the top of the Scottish Premiership as they claimed a narrow but fully merited victory over a toothless Partick Thistle side.
Scorer: Aberdeen - Rooney (34pen)
Adam Rooney’s 14th goal of the season, from a first-half penalty awarded in controversial circumstances by referee Willie Collum, secured a fourth 1-0 win in their last five matches for Derek McInnes’ men, a sequence only broken by their last-minute home defeat by Celtic a fortnight ago.
In what still has at least the appearance of a title race, fifth-placed Aberdeen are just four points adrift of pacesetters Celtic and Inverness, with Dundee United and Hamilton also within striking distance.
Thistle, who remain seven points clear of both St Mirren and Ross County at the bottom of the table, paid the price yesterday for a woeful lack of incision up front. They failed to force Aberdeen goalkeeper Scott Brown into a single save, helping to condemn them to their sixth defeat in their last seven meetings of the teams.
McInnes had cause to be satisfied with the manner his team adapted to changes in both personnel and formation. A combination of suspension and injuries deprived him of key players such as Shay Logan, Russell Anderson, Willo Flood and Barry Robson, but there was nothing makeshift about the way the visitors approached the contest.
Jonny Hayes, slotting in at left-back in the 4-1-4-1 formation used by McInnes, was prominent in setting a progressive tone for Aberdeen from the start as he got forward at every opportunity.
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The pace and directness of Hayes caused early consternation in the Thistle defence as a couple of his darting runs created openings. From the first, Danny Seaborne had to make a smart intervention to nick the ball off Rooney’s toes just outside the six-yard box. From Hayes’ next surge, Niall McGinn had a couple of shots blocked before Rooney hooked the ball home from close range, his effort ruled out by Collum for a nudge on a defender.
Thistle took longer to find any attacking rhythm, although they should have opened the scoring in the tenth minute. Stephen O’Donnell’s cross was knocked down by Kris Doolan into the path of James Craigen, who wastefully dragged his left-foot shot wide of the target from around 12 yards.
But although Thistle gradually secured a more equitable share of possession, it was Aberdeen who retained the greater degree of fluency and menace in the final third of the pitch.
Paul Gallacher, back in goal for Thistle to replace the ill Scott Fox, made a fine diving save low to his left to keep out Rooney’s firm shot from a Cammy Smith pass as Aberdeen ramped up a spell of sustained pressure which eventually led to their breakthrough.
A McGinn free kick prompted another decent stop by Gallacher before the veteran former Scotland international ’keeper was forced into the contentious piece of action which preceded
Aberdeen’s penalty award.
Gallacher, like the rest of his team-mates, hesitated in anticipation of an offside flag for David Goodwillie as the striker ducked out of the way of Smith’s cross-cum-shot. Play continued, however, and Gallacher had to scuttle across his goal to turn the ball behind for a corner.
McGinn took the corner from the right, picking out Mark Reynolds whose header struck an arm of Abdul Osman. The well-positioned Collum immediately pointed to the spot and booked Osman. Rooney stepped forward to give Gallacher no chance with a sweetly-struck penalty, even though the ’keeper dived the right way.
While Thistle continued to nurse a sense of injustice at the circumstances of their falling behind, Aberdeen had chances to strengthen their position before half-time. Gallacher made another solid save to deny Andrew Considine, then Goodwillie should have done better than flash a close-range header wide of the ’keeper’s right-hand post.
The home side had loud and optimistic appeals for a penalty of their own turned down four minutes before the interval, claiming Reynolds had handled Craigen’s corner from the left, but the ball had actually struck the arm of a Thistle player.
The work of both teams became increasingly ragged in the second half and Archibald looked to bring much-needed spark and invention to his side with the introduction of substitutes Gary Fraser, Kallum Higginbotham and Ryan Stevenson at rapid and regular intervals.
But Thistle remained unable to place any telling pressure on the visitors’ defence and were indebted to Gallacher once more in the 73rd minute when he made his finest save of the afternoon, reacting superbly to keep out Rooney’s close-range header from a Hayes cross.
Thistle did finally manage to carve out a clear-cut opportunity to equalise and it was one Stuart Bannigan should have taken. But the midfielder could not connect cleanly with Stevenson’s cross from the left, the ball striking his shoulder rather than his head as he sent it wide of Brown’s right-hand post from close range.
The game was up for the hosts and Aberdeen, who introduced teenage midfielder Kieran Gibbons for his first-team debut in the closing stages, collected a valuable win.
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