McGinn and tonic
ABERDEEN 3 DUNDEE 0: Winger bags a brace as Pittodrie side leapfrog Rangers to go second
THE race to win the Ladbrokes Premiership this season may have been about as exciting as the latest update on the Brexit negotiations as runaway leaders Celtic have steamrolled all before them.
The same, however, cannot be said of the tussle between Aberdeen and Rangers to finish best of the rest. The battle for second has been compelling and it took a further intriguing twist last night as the Pittodrie club jumped above their Ibrox rivals with an assured win.
Ryan Jack, their captain and central midfielder, put the home team in front after half an hour with his first goal in nearly two years and a sublime strike by Niall McGinn just before half-time effectively killed off the visitors.
McGinn, who was a richly-deserved winner of the man of the match award, netted for the fourth time in six days and the 11th time in the 2016/17 campaign in the second half before leaving the field to warm applause from a satisfied home support.
Derek McInnes’ side have now played the same number of games as Mark Warburton’s team and hold the slightest of advantages, a single point, over them.
That situation may, of course, change for the umpteenth time this season if Rangers can overcome Motherwell at Fir Park early this afternoon. But on this sort of impressive form their rivals, who have won their last five outings after fielding exactly the same team, will not surrender the placing they have recorded in the last two campaigns tamely.
Kevin Holt and Faissal El Bakhtaoui were omitted from the Dundee side in the wake of the embarrassing William Hill Scottish Cup defeat to second-tier strugglers St. Mirren at Dens Park last weekend. Nick Ross and Kevin Gomis came in. James Vincent was unavailable as his wife had given birth to a baby daughter earlier in the day.
Paul Hartley’s men had the chance, for a day or so, to leapfrog Partick Thistle and Ross County in the table and move into the top six with an away victory and set about achieving that with purpose. Marcus Haber forced a save from Joe Lewis in the fifth minute and Paul McGowan struck the crossbar with an audacious attempt from fully 25 yards out shortly afterwards. But their hosts had soon assumed control.
Jonny Hayes, the Aberdeen winger who has been interesting Cardiff City during this transfer window, whipped a low cross into the Dundee penalty box in the 16th minute which rebounded off the post.
Just two minutes later McGinn, who is back to his very best after making a subdued start to the season and is mulling over the offer of a new contract after being linked with Hearts, forced a one-handed save from Scott Bain. The winger also had a dipping free-kick tipped over by the keeper.
The Northern Ireland internationalist’s trickery on the left flank led to the opening goal. He turned the hapless Nick Ross inside out, supplying Jack with a perfectly weighted delivery. His team-mate was surrounded by dark blue shirts, but rose well and nodded in.
He added the second himself after Ash Taylor had headed a long Shay Logan hoof upfield down to him. He controlled the ball on his right knee, swivelled and unleashed a left-foot volley which sailed past Bain and went in off the inside of the right post. There may not be a better goal scored at Pittodrie this season.
Aberdeen continued to dominate in the second half and Dundee had Bain to thank for keeping the scoreline respectable. He denied first Graeme Shinnie and then Adam Rooney as his side was overrun.
Dundee’s frustration at how the game was going was obvious in the 64th minute when Julen Etxabeguren scythed down McGinn. The offending player was rightly booked by referee Kevin Clancy for the blatant foul and was replaced by El Bakhtaoui soon afterwards.
Aberdeen bagged their third goal with 10 minutes remaining when Hayes teed up McGinn for a header which Bain was unable to keep out. The provider went off two minutes later and was replaced by Ryan Chrstie.
He could have been forgiven for feeling nervous as he made his debut on loan from Celtic after his unfortunate Twitter controversy during the week, but there was no animosity directed towards him on a night when there was, despite the news that James Maddison wouldn’t be returning from Norwich on loan, plenty to cheer for those of an Aberdeen persuasion.
AT THE DOUBLE: Aberdeen’s Niall McGinn scores the first of his brace last night.