A night of joy unbounded for Aberdeen; another evening of regrets for Rangers. The Pittodrie side had won on just one of their last 29 visits to Govan – a 2-1 win in May 2017 when the Ibrox side were slowly starting to come to terms with how bad an appointment Pedro Caixinha was – but this was even more demoralising for a group of supporters who saw their team go top of the table on Sunday. Arriving last night with hope, they cut a disgruntled bunch as they sloped away at full time. So what exactly did we learn from another fraught night at Ibrox?
Steven Gerrard had spoken in the daily newspapers about the requirement to cut down on the seven red cards his side had been shown this season, one of which came to a certain Alfredo Morelos as early as the 12th minute of the opening day of the season against these same opponents at Pittodrie. Having had to play the Betfred Cup semi-final without either of his recognised strikers, he couldn’t wait to field a couple here. Let’s just say things ultimately didn’t work out that way.
For much of this match his players were as good as his word and it was Aberdeen who were left ruing getting on the wrong side of the match official. But frustration ultimately got the better of them, the red mist descending after the hour mark, as Morelos got his marching orders for the third time this season. And this one can’t be rescinded as it was for two bookings, both for fouls on Graeme Shinnie, the second a forearm push off to the side of the face which didn’t seem to have much in the way of viciousness but was right under the nose of referee McLean. Rangers might have ended up in even more hot water had substitute Kyle Lafferty not escaped censure when he caught Scott McKenna with an elbow when already on a booking.
Morelos’ departure levelled things up after giant Aberdeen striker Sam Cosgrove’s first half dismissal looked to have tilted this match against the visitors. He got his name taken in the opening stages for a needless, late challenge on Gareth McAuley and was the architect of his own downfall for his second booking, deemed to have made a dangerous attempt for the ball when he nicked it away, studs showing, on Connor Goldson when the Rangers defender had already committed to the ball. While both teams could argue the case on the second decision – assistant manager Gary McAllister needed a talking to from Steven McLean after a heated exchange with Derek McInnes – it is the kind of challenge which is regularly given as a yellow card.
TOP OF THE TABLE NO MORE
Back at the summit of the Scottish game for the first time since 2011, it turned out that the Ibrox side’s stay at the top of table would last only three days. Whatever part the change in the pressure dynamics had to play in it, while they keep their noses just ahead of a Celtic side who still have a game in hand after that late equaliser by Motherwell, they were leapfrogged by a Kilmarnock side who deserve to be treated with more respect as title rivals with each passing day. Not only that, they must face their next two matches – Dundee and Hamilton – without main striker Morelos. Few would have predicted such a turn of events at the start of the evening.
On the wrong end of what appeared to be a morale-sapping Betfred Cup final defeat to Celtic on Sunday, this was a heroic effort from a group of Aberdeen players at a venue which has been anything but a happy hunting ground. Superbly organised throughout the match, there had to be a special mention for Graeme Shinnie. Days after being on the wrong end of that ‘gloat gate’ affair involving Scott Brown and Mikael Lustig, he played a real captain’s part for his team. Joe Lewis was alert whenever called upon, and not content with being the goal hero, Scott McKenna provided a huge saving tackle when Lafferty had a late chance to be a hero. After a patchy start to the season, win their two games in hand and they will be a point off the Premiership pace.
HOW THE MATCH WAS WON
Steven Gerrard freshened his line-up with three changes from the team which took them to the top of the table since 2011 against Hearts. The suspended Scott Arfield’s place in attacking midfield went to Ovie Ejaria, Jon Flanagan came in for Andy Halliday and Glenn Middleton replaced Eros Grezda. Aberdeen made just one change from the Betfred Cup final, winger Connor McLennan replacing the luckless Gary Mackay Steven on the wing.
Rangers shouldn’t have been shocked by Aberdeen’s set piece prowess after what happened in the Betfred Cup semi-final, but nonetheless Ibrox was stunned by an opening goal for the away side within seven minutes. Niall McGinn speared over an angled free kick after a foul committed by Ovie Ejaria on Graeme Shinnie, the ball spun high into the air off the head of Sam Cosgrove, and Scott McKenna volleyed the ball gleefully past McGregor.
Rangers had a couple of dangerous set pieces of their own and Lassana Coulibaly headed over from a Tavernier cross, but the closest they came was a fine fingertip save from Joe Lewis to defy a daisycutter from Glenn Middleton which might just have crept its way into the corner.
Steven Gerrard’s answer to the dismissal of Cosgrove at half time was the introduction of Kyle Lafferty for Jon Flanagan, a change that saw Glenn Middleton drop in as part left back/part flying winger. While the winger’s first act was to earn a booking for leaving a foot in on Shay Logan, he wasn’t slow in making an impact. He tested Lewis with a sliding effort from range, with Ryan Jack’s deflected effort from the rebound forcing the Welshman into action again. Eros Grezda was next to follow from the bench but his shot was only half-hit. Running out of ideas in that second half, their last chance came and went with a McAuley header was saved by Lewis.
The man Rangers fans like to know as El Bufalo wrote the headlines for the wrong reasons but he came into the match hoping to secure a small piece of Scottish football history, having scored in his last seven league matches. The only other man to do that since the birth of the SPFL is David Clarkson, who notched in the first eight domestic games in the 2014-15 season, including a cup match against Aberdeen.
Bobby Lennox, with 13 league games in a row, is the all-time record holder but this was a typically stubborn Aberdeen backline which attempted to limit the attempts on goal from the little Colombian, who has a total of 17 goals to his name already this season.
Apart from a couple of near post headers from a cleverly-worked corners from James Tavernier and Glenn Middleton which flew into the side-netting and the roof of the net, he was kept in check. Already due to miss the meeting with Dundee on Sunday due to suspension, he got his almost obligatory booking for what appeared to be persistent fouling after a late challenge on Shinnie.
His big moment came after 61 minutes, found in the box by Tavernier cross which dropped over the head of Lafferty, only for him to lash the ball wide on his left foot.