Joe Lewis redeemed himself yesterday to help earn Aberdeen a point in a match that was the instantly forgettable antithesis of high-scoring clashes between these teams last season.
The goalkeeper, pictured below, was already comforted by the show of support the Aberdeen fans had offered him. They sang his name in a bid to raise his spirits following the goalkeeper’s part in last week’s European exit to NK Maribor.
The concession of that late winner for the Slovenians was a collaborative effort involving an injudicious passback from Graeme Shinnie and a rutted surface. But Lewis’ fresh air kick was still a memory that the keeper probably needed to exorcise – and he did.
His save to his left from a powerful Danny Swanson shot three minutes before half-time prevented Aberdeen slipping behind. The goalkeeper, who joined in the summer from Cardiff, was also solid when it came to clutching crossballs in a swirling, tricky wind.
Before the game there was much talk of the 18 goals that were the product of four games between these sides last season, with St Johnstone claiming 12 of them. “Bound to finish 0-0,” said one sage in the press box, and so it proved.
There were some mitigating circumstances; it was, after all, the first league game of the season, while Aberdeen were still recovering from the blow of their European exit just four days earlier. Their players did not get to bed until 4am on Friday morning after the trip home, something manager Derek McInnes was quick to remind people afterwards. “And then the SPFL give us an early kick-off – so thanks for that,” he added.
Aberdeen were also deprived of the speed and creativity of Jonny Hayes, who McInnes later confirmed has been ruled out until after September’s international break with the hamstring strain sustained earlier this month. “He is someone that could have unlocked the door for us,” lamented the manager, who praised his team for being a little more streetwise. With the addition of the powerful Jayden Stockley up front, they were certainly not up for being pushed around by an equally robust
St Johnstone team. But such athleticism didn’t produce a great spectacle sadly.
The conditions, too, were unhelpful – a dry, bobbly pitch even at this early stage of the season combined with the strong wind meant the game was never likely to be easy on the eye.
But still, the crowd of over 5,000 were entitled to expect a little more quality at the dawn of a new league season.
There were few clear-cut chances other than Swanson’s piledriver and dealt with so impressively by Lewis.
Despite having less possession, St Johnstone could claim to have created the two best chances.
On top of Swanson’s shot, striker Graham Cummins had openings at either end of the match.
His first chance arrived after Brian Easton swept in a ball from the left that the striker was unable to make a true enough connection with.
Still, Lewis did well to block. In the final minutes Cummins again scuffed at a cross, this time from Swanson, when in an even better position.
Aberdeen created plenty of half-chances in and around the box but Alan Mannus was in equally good form as Lewis. The St Johnstone goalkeeper handled everything that came his way with confidence and made some decent stops, including when tipping a
Ryan Jack header past the post late on.
But he was never truly tested by an Aberdeen side that was disappointingly blunt in attack. The introduction of both Adam Rooney and Niall McGinn with half an hour left was an attempt by McInnes to inject some quality. But in the end, as the Aberdeen manager himself conceded, both teams cancelled each other out and seemed content to accept a point each.
“The attitude of the players got us a point but we came for all three,” said McInnes. It was the kind of game he felt Aberdeen might have lost towards the back end of last season. So from that point of view, he considered what was earned yesterday to be a point won in their bid to challenge for the title again this season.