The Herald - Herald Sport
Shinnie does business as Aberdeen seal spot in European group stage
BARRY ROBSON is not one to accept the plaudits of a man who picked an under-performing Aberdeen off the ground and guided them to a third-place finish in the Premiership and, with it, Europa League football next season.
Yet, there was no hiding the Aberdeen manager’s satisfaction as his determined Dons pulled of a feat thought out of their reach four months ago when Jim Goodwin’s time was called and the man, then in charge of the Pittodrie under-18 squad was asked, temporarily at first, to take the reins and hope for the best.
Two strikes from Graeme Shinnie and a stunning free-kick from Leighton Clarkson, on loan from Liverpool, inflicted pain on St Mirren - reduced to ten men after half-anhour when Thierry Small was sent off - and sent the Buddies’ crashing to defeat.
“Shinnie played a captain’s role,” Robson said. “It is why I made him captain as a loan player. He knows the club, he loves the players, he has a great attitude with that drive and enthusiasm. People get caught up in pass, pass, pass but the game is so much more than that. He brings that enthusiasm and energy that you need.”
Robson could not have foreseen his rapid rise as a first-time manager, but was confident he could do the job well, joking that the board “took their time” in appointing him as permanent boss.
“I had been watching the team in the first half of the season and I could see good things in the team. But they took on board what we are trying to do.
“We didn’t come in and shout and make them better. I have been thinking for years about how I want to do things and they have taken it on board. But we need to come back in the summer and try to go again.”
Clarkson’s 14th-minute opener was a thing of beauty, a free-kick after St Mirren’s Greg Kiltie had, firstly, given the ball away to Jonny Hayes, then, in an effort to make amends for his error, clattered the Irishman 25 yards from Trevor Carson’s goal. Cue a precise finish and an extra surge of energy for the hosts.
But what would a football match be with a dash of input from VAR? So, just short of half-an-hour’s play when St Mirren’s Small decided to see how the pitch-side wall of Pittodrie’s south stand would fare were he to send Bojan Miovski hurling into it and video assistant referee Euan Anderson suggested match official Don Robertson take a close look at the play-back.
He did, and Small was red-carded as Miovski also headed for the changing room, only he was on a stretcher and Marly Watkins was chosen as his replacement.
Two minutes before the break, that combination brought its reward. Carson’s low save from a Watkins shot that came off Joe Shaughnessy, spun high and Shinnie, who had returned to the side after a four-game suspension, was first to react to head into the Saints’ goal.
As the half-time whistle blew, the 16,000 home fans were given an additional boost and did something previously unheard of at Pittodrie – they cheered a Rangers goal. It was the news from the stadium announcer that Ibrox side had equalised against Hearts, Aberdeen’s rivals on the night for third place in the Premiership.
However, Robson’s men knew they could not afford to let-up and four minutes into the second half Shinnie, a player the Aberdeen manager would like to retain when his loan spell from Wigan ends next month, was once more in the right place.
Ylber Ramadani’s low ball across the St Mirren area needed to be controlled, but Shinnie did what was required before rifling his shot past a rather hapless Carson.
It was as much as Buddies’ boss Stephen Robinson could have hoped for with the hosts in top form as he defended Small.
“He is an 18-year-old kid. He is going to be a very good player. He made a rash decision and he has been punished for it. It was not the only reason why we lost the game.
“St Mirren have not been in the top six in this format and we have the most points in this current format. The challenge is can we better? We have achieved the first phase of our challenge in getting into the top six but now we want maybe three or four players that help us.”