At long last, a goal and a win for the Dons – but they made hard work for themselves in a match they should have had wrapped up by the interval. Philip Sim reports from Pittodrie.
This was the classical game of two halves.
In the opening period Aberdeen were unplayable, zipping passes around, winning every 50-50 ball and racing forward at every opportunity.
Josh Magennis in particular was an absolute dynamo, running the Inverness defence ragged, and it was he who created Rob Milsom’s opening goal, which was greeted with relief bordering on delirium by the Pittodrie faithful.
Scott Vernon’s goal was well-taken too, although it was put on a plate for him by hapless Caley debutant Roman Golobart.
The Dons got a lucky break in referee Crawford Allan’s frankly bizarre decision to pull play back for an Inverness free-kick just as Jonny Hayes put the ball in the net, but on balance they were good value for their two-goal advantage at the interval and indeed could have scored a few more.
It seemed like a completely different Aberdeen team that came out for the second half. They seemed hesitant – nervous even.
Inverness did not have to fight particularly hard to find a way back into the game – indeed, they could have pulled a goal back earlier than they did. David Gonzalez seems to have a tendency to race out of his box after balls he can’t possibly get to, and only a fantastic sliding block from Ricky Foster spared the keeper’s blushes when he was lobbed by Hayes.
The big Colombian made amends with a couple of good stops from Foran and Hayes, but this only underlines the defensive frailties the Dons were displaying – Youl Mawene in particular had near enough ground to a halt. The Frenchman looked to be injured, always reaching for his hamstring, and he gifted Caley their goal when he chose to head the ball tamely into the path of Foran when it looked far easier to just boot it clear.
It was no surprise when he limped off to be replaced by McArdle, but if the change had been made earlier the Dons might have preserved their clean sheet.
Foran’s goal didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone at Pittodrie, as the Dons had looked increasingly tame after the rampant Magennis was withdrawn on 67 minutes for Megginson.
What the big Irishman lacks in touch and composure he more than makes up for in sheer enthusiasm and determination – he made the opening goal with his strength, pace and aggressive running. He is in a word unconventional – he is a nightmare to defend against, as you can never entirely sure what he’ll do next.
Once he had gone off, though, Megginson and Vernon struggled to hold the ball up at all, giving the defence and midfield little respite. Caley grew into the game and were camped in the Dons half throughout the agonising final minutes.
Width was again a problem, with Brown persisting with his Tynecastle experiment of Fyvie and Milsom on the wings. Milsom put in a terrific shift and was well worth his goal, but he appears somewhat stifled out wide, always looking to cut inside and find space. The same was true of Fyvie, who looked off the pace throughout.
In contrast, Ricky Foster’s pace was electric, and on several occasions he burned past multiple opponents to set up chances for his side – indeed, at times he was frustrated that his team-mates couldn’t keep up with him as he surged forward.
He demonstrated the value of having a proper wide player with pace – it can be a game-changer, and this is why Brown will be praying that he can get Peter Pawlett fit, and keep him fit.
With so few options on the flanks, the game was won in the middle of the park.
The credit for this has to go to Isaac Osbourne, easily the man of the match. He fought a 90-minute war of attrition with the entire Caley midfield, and a few of the Highlanders will be having nightmares about him tonight.
His hard work and tough tackling gave his partner Kari Arnason licence to play the ball, and the Icelander looked composed throughout as he sprayed passes around. It helps that he’s also a man-monster, albeit not quite on the Osbourne scale, but it’s nigh on impossible to knock him off the ball.
So Aberdeen’s season is finally underway, and encouragingly they’re still not that far off the pace; the league table is yet to settle, with Motherwell sitting top prior to the visit of Rangers on Sunday, with Dunfermline and a resurgent St Mirren contesting the European places.
At close of play on Saturday, traditional top-six challengers Hearts, Dundee United and Hibs all join the Dons in the bottom six, so there is not a huge amount of ground to make up. This win should hopefully kick-start the Dons’ league campaign, and build some momentum for the league cup tie with Dundee on Tuesday.