There is something about Hibernian that brings out the best in Gary Mackay-Steven.
Last night, the Aberdeen winger scored his fifth goal against the Easter Road club in a season and a half to move the Dons into more familiar territory in the Premiership table.
Their 1-0 home victory over the Edinburgh side was a third league win in the last ten days for the Pittodrie club and saw them rise back into the top half of the table, above last night’s opponents and St Johnstone into fifth place – at least until the rest of the weekend fixtures are completed.
The elements hardly helped make this a game for the purists but it was moment of magic from the Scotland squad member which decided things again after he got a winner at Easter Road and a hat-trick against Hibs at Pittodrie last season.
Aberdeen might well be on the up but their visitors have slipped into the bottom six after the worst run of league results since they returned to the top flight, although that has included trips to Celtic, Hearts and Aberdeen in a winless four-game sequence.
Not that things will get any easier as they meet Celtic, Hearts and Rangers (twice) in the nine matches to be played between now and the winter break and manager Neil Lennon has work to do during the international hiatus.
Lennon took responsibility for last weekend’s home defeat against St Johnstone for “all the hoo-ha going on in the background” but four changes to his starting line-up suggested the blame was actually more widespread.
Ryan Porteous, Vykintas Slivka and Florian Kamberi were drafted in but it was the return of Darren McGregor which caused consternation for Aberdeen early on as they defended in the teeth of a gale.
The centre-back’s physical presence twice forced desperate clearances in the opening 11 minutes as Stevie Mallan’s wind-assisted set-piece delivery created havoc in the Dons penalty area.
Not that there was much else to get excited about for long spells of the opening period, although the conditions were hardly conducive to anything other than safety-first football at times.
Something Porteous quite clearly forgot, to his and Hibernian’s cost five minutes from the break, although he had already looked the weak link at the back before the most basic of mistakes.
The teenager was booked for flattening Mackay-Steven after just 16 minutes so repeating that was never an option as the winger intercepted his poor pass towards Lewis Stevenson and sped towards goal.
The finish was the undoubted highlight of the half, an emphatic left-foot drive from just outside the penalty area which zipped along the deck on its way into the bottom left-hand corner of Adam Bogdan’s net.
It was only the second moment of anxiety for the goalkeeper, the previous one having demanded smart reactions under the bar as Niall McGinn’s acute angled free-kick threatened to swerve in.
Not too many moments of anxiety throughout for Alan Muir, the referee drafted in to replace Willie Collum following his groin injury picked up on Champions League business in midweek.
Rangers have officially complained about Collum’s performance in their game against St Mirren last week but the Ibrox club’s supporters are unlikely to be the only ones hoping he doesn’t have a speedy recovery.
Muir did book Mallan in the second half but had a controversy-free night as both sides squandered decent chances to alter the scoreline as the game became stretched after the interval.
Milligan should have had the visitors level instead of heading another Mallan corner over the bar in 54 minutes, while Kamberi must have headed back to the capital as the most frustrated Hibernian player of them all.
First the Swiss striker raced on to Milligan’s through ball after the midfielder had dispossessed Graeme Shinnie, rounded the on-rushing Joe Lewis only to get too much elevation on his angled shot. Then Mikey Devlin got enough of a deflection on the ball to ensure Kamberi didn’t celebrate his return from suspension after a controversial dismissal in the Edinburgh derby with a goal from Slivka’s cross.
Stevie May could probably empathise with him as the Aberdeen striker is still looking for a first Premiership goal since March and should have had it on the hour mark after Max Lowe’s wind-assisted punt forward.
May initially outpaced McGregor but the defender recovered to make a goal-saving tackle just as the former Preston North End player looked certain to score having sped beyond Bogdan. Not that it mattered in the end.
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