Evening Express

ANALYSIS: Attacking display gives Dons the edge as St Johnstone are put to the sword with well-taken goals

Aberdeen's Ryan Christie celebrates the opening goal to make it 1-0.

Aberdeen may have turned the race for second place in their favour by capitalising on Rangers’ latest slip-up.

The 4-1 win over Tommy Wright’s St Johnstone – now doomed to finish outside of the top six for the first time in seven years – saw the Reds return from the international break rejuvenated.

Derek McInnes’ men started slow but, after half an hour, found their rhythm on Pittodrie’s bare pitch to run out comfortable winners.

Their attacking play hit the heights in the second half, with the pace and fluidity in their attacking four too much for the Saints’ defence.

They are now level on points with the Ibrox men in the Premiership table, although Graeme Murty’s side’s goal difference is 11 strikes better.

Rangers had earlier drawn 2-2 with Motherwell at Fir Park, and Aberdeen can use their trip to play Well tomorrow night – their game in hand – to pull clear of the Gers in second.

Saturday’s game was one which saw Aberdeen score more goals from open play than the two they had in their previous six and, crucially, it appears a couple of weeks off has put paid to their struggles in the attacking third.

Dons boss Derek McInnes made three changes to the side that beat Dundee 1-0 at Pittodrie, via a Graeme Shinnie goal, before the international break.

Goalie Joe Lewis came back in to make his first start since January. He suffered damage to knee cartilage in a defeat to Rangers at Ibrox.

Elsewhere, midfielders Chidi Nwakali and Niall McGinn dropped out through injury, with Greg Stewart and Gary Mackay-Steven coming back into the side.

Stewart started the game behind Stevie May up front, while Mackay-Steven and Ryan Christie were on the left and right flanks respectively in a mobile front four.

Skipper Shinnie and Kenny McLean made up the central midfield pairing, with Anthony O’Connor partnering new Scotland star Scott McKenna at centre-back.

The formbook suggested a Reds win, despite St Johnstone being unbeaten in three matches, with McInnes’ men winning both previous meetings this term 3-0.

In a pretty poor opening half hour, Aberdeen were second best, with St Johnstone asking a few questions of McKenna and O’Connor with high balls, although Christie did see one good effort with his left foot hit Mannus’ back post.

May was isolated and then wasteful when set loose down the right, failing to find a red shirt, much to the dismay of the fans.

On 35 minutes, against the run of play, the game changed.

Aberdeen took the lead, breaking from another Saints free-kick.

Mackay-Steven found the onrushing Christie from the centre spot. The loan star rounded Mannus and ex-Don Joe Shaugnessy before slotting through a crowd of desperate Saints into an empty net.

He must have had the coolest head in Pittodrie as he waited to finish.

May, enlivened by the Dons’ lead, then headed off the bar moments later, with Christie unable to beat Mannus on the follow-up.

Things looked much rosier as referee Madden blew for half-time, with the Dons taking a now-deserved 2-0 lead, May slotting past Mannus after being played in by Christie for his first goal since November.

After injury and a slow return to form, ex-Saints striker May was back to his best for the rest of the afternoon, stretching the defence and creating space for the men behind him.

It was 3-0 soon after half-time, Shay Logan heading Andy Considine’s cross at the back post for Stewart to tap in on 51 minutes.

One minute later, Blair Alston, who Tommy Wright had only thrown on at half-time, was forced off through injury, meaning Saints had used all of their substitutions.

There looked to be no way back, although Wright’s men were still seeing reasonable spells of possession.

A Christie header from a Stewart cross was tipped over expertly by Mannus, before Considine hit a golden opportunity from six yards straight into the prone Mannus’ arms after a flick-on from Christie.

St Johnstone pulled a goal back on 68 minutes, when Matty Willock headed Craig’s cross off of May from 10 yards. The deflection carried the ball over Lewis.

Eight minutes later, a Christie free-kick hit the wall and landed on the roof of the net after Mackay-Steven was poleaxed on the edge of the area.

McInnes then put on Dominic Ball to shield the defence and substitute Mark Reynolds on in place of McKenna to see the game out, with Christie going wide left as Mackay-Steven exited proceedings.

However, it was the Dons who added another goal on 82 minutes, Stewart firing a wonderfully composed left-footed finish past Mannus into the far bottom corner after being teed up by May.

It was Stewart’s first double in an Aberdeen shirt and – similar to May – Dons fans will hope he can hold down a place in the team and do it more regularly until the end of the season.

Sub Adam Rooney was unlucky to see his attempt to score the Dons’ fifth cleared off the line in the final minutes as Aberdeen’s good day’s work drew to a close.

Teams:

Aberdeen: Joe Lewis, Shaleum Logan, Andrew Considine, Anthony O’Connor, Scott McKenna, Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean, Ryan Christie, Gary Mackay-Steven, Greg Stewart, Stevie May.

Subs: Mark Reynolds (for McKenna 67), Dominic Ball (for Mackay-Steven 78), Adam Rooney (for May 86).

Subs not used: Freddie Woodman, Kari Arnason, Scott Wright, Nicky Maynard.

St Johnstone: Alan Mannus, Scott Tanser, Joe Shaughnessy, Steven Anderson, Chris Millar, Murray Davidson, David Wotherspoon, Jason Kerr, Denny Johnstone, Chris Kane, Liam Craig.

Subs: Blair Alston (for Davidson 45), Matty Willock (Millar 45), Richard Foster (for Alston 52).

Subs not used: Mark Hurst, Steven MacLean, Kyle McClean, Liam Gordon.