St Mirren 1 - 2 Aberdeen: May and Cosgrove goals see off hosts

Never write off Derek McInnes' Aberdeen. They've spent the majority of the season bouncing between the top and bottom halves of the league and have been largely ignored as contenders to push Celtic and Rangers at the top end of the Ladbrokes Premiership table.

Aberdeen's Sam Cosgrove celebrates. Pic: SNS/Craig Williamson

But this victory over St Mirren in Paisley, their second in the space of four days and the sixth in their last eight league games, has them climbing into fourth place just a point behind Rangers and four from the top.

Like a lot of their triumphs this term, the 2-1 victory at a bitterly cold Simple Digital Arena wasn’t the most convincing of results, but it was achieved thanks to a resolute defensive performance where they limited the home side to very few opportunities across the 90 minutes, and they did just enough on the attacking end to secure the points.

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“I’ve had no joy looking at the table for a lot of this season,” admitted McInnes after the match. “People have been saying it’s the most competitive SPFL for a long time, and we’ve not been there, and we’re normally there. It doesn’t sit well with me.

“People have said it’s been a poor season from us, an underwhelming season. I understand that, but we’ve still managed to be competitive enough to get to a final and now we’re up to fourth with a game in hand over one of the teams above us.”

The visitors lined up in a 4-4-2 with two attacking wide players and asked questions of their hosts in the early going. Niall McGinn, playing on the left but with licence to roam inside, played his part in an early territorial dominance as he linked midfield and attack.

Striker Sam Cosgrove had the first two opportunities. He mishit after being found by a Connor McLennan cross just four minutes in and fired wide on a counter-attack a short time later.

St Mirren began to get a foothold in the game after that, but it was the visitors who would have the next chance as McGinn brought out a great save from Dean Lyness with a free-kick just outside the penalty box. The 27-year-old stopper started the campaign as third-choice keeper but was granted his first appearance after the mid-season retirement of Craig Samson and on-loan Danny Rogers being unable to play against his parent club.

From the resulting set-piece Aberdeen were granted the opportunity to opening the scoring from the penalty spot. Alfie Jones was adjudged to have hauled Andrew Considine to the ground. Stevie May stepped up and netted his second goal of the season; the first since a 4-0 Betfred Cup victory over the same opposition in August.

Just five minutes later the home side were level. Simeon Jackson won a free-kick from Scott McKenna 30 yards out. From the set-piece, Adam Hammill picked out midfielder Cammy MacPherson all alone in the penalty area. The 19-year-old was given so much space that he was allowed a touch before calmly slotting past Joe Lewis, who was rightly furious with his defence.

Aberdeen channelled that frustration into their performance early in the second period as they camped out in St Mirren’s half.

The first opportunity came the way of May. The striker executed a terrific give-and-go with Cosgrove, took an excellent touch to set himself up one-on-one with Lyness but elected to go for power over accuracy and saw his high shot parried by the goalkeeper.

The custodian continued his stand-out showing on the hour-mark when he somehow managed to push a Considine header on to the crossbar after the defender had been picked out by a McGinn free-kick. Unfortunately for the former Hearts youth player, Cosgrove reacted quickest of the players in a crowded penalty box as he fired home the rebound.

“It’s not the same three points for strikers when they’re leaving a game and they’ve not found the back of the net,” reflected McInnes on both of his front two scoring. “Strikers are the hardest players to get. We had money to spend in the summer but couldn’t get the right one. We’re trying to work with the ones we’ve got and make them better.

“I’ve no problem with strikers missing. What harm can be done? But I need them to be getting into positions to score, and that’s what we’ve had these last few games.”

St Mirren threw on Cammy Smith and moved from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 for the closing exchanges.

But while the hosts were able to put the away side under pressure as the game drew to a close, they failed to fashion that elusive opportunity in order to draw level.