Aberdeen 4 - 1 St Johnstone: Dons move level with Rangers
The chances of that happening increased dramatically here as the Dons eventually took full advantage of yet another slip-up by the Ibrox club as goals from Ryan Christie, Stevie May and a Greg Stewart double drew them level on points with their bitter rivals.
Now they have the chance to move three points clear by winning their game in hand at Fir Park on Tuesday, not that McInnes will be taking anything for granted, with a trip to Tynecastle also to come before the division is divided.
What is certain is Aberdeen will need to play as well as they did after Christie’s opening goal to make it happen and not as poorly as they did in a truly awful first 35 minutes on a pitch that more closely resembled a ploughed field.
The transformation was quite amazing after Gary Mackay-Steven sent Christie scurrying clear to show the sort of calm and calculated play largely absent to that point, rounding Alan Mannus to score his eighth goal of the season.
The on-loan Celtic midfielder then set up May for his first goal since November just before the interval and in truth the home side could have had a few more by that stage, such was the intensity and fluidity that was suddenly evident again.
Stewart added two in a
one-sided second half, doubling his tally on the day and for the season at the same time, leaving McInnes with barely suppressed enthusiasm for the run-in to frustrate the team he declined to join as manager last December.
“I think the post-split fixtures are going to be the best we’ve had for many years,” he said. “There’s going to be loads of exciting fixtures with loads riding on them and some cracking games.
“That’s the way the split was designed to be. Everyone apart from St Johnstone have so much to play for and will be fighting tooth and nail.
“We want to go into the top six fixtures with any advantage we can and that now continues on Tuesday night at Motherwell. If our form’s as it can be then we’ll be right in amongst it.”
There was a lot to be optimistic about as Joe Lewis returned to action for the first time since being carried off with a knee injury at Ibrox in January and could hardly have had an easier reintroduction between the sticks.
About his only action was to retrieve the ball from the back of the net when Manchester United’s on-loan midfielder Matty Willock headed Liam Craig’s corner into the net in 68 minutes but St Johnstone were already three down by then.
Stewart had scored the third in 51 minutes from point-blank-range when Shay Logan’s header looked like going in anyway but the striker on loan from Birmingham City finished more impressively late on to complete their third comfortable win of the season against the Perth club.
It’s a result that confirmed a first bottom-six finish in seven years for Saints. About the only consolation for Tommy Wright is that their last five fixtures won’t involve a battle against relegation. “The good thing about winning midweek was getting to 37 points and gives us a cushion and an opportunity to try and finish seventh – which has to be our aim,” he said.
“We have had years of top six and of over-achieving and people have probably said we have under-achieved this season but I know the restraints we work under and if we stay in the league it is still a good season for us.”