Evening Express

ANALYSIS: Everything still in Dons’ hands … but the size of the task has suddenly become monumental

Kenny McLean celebrates a goal for Aberdeen.

Aberdeen’s bid for a runners-up finish will now go right to the wire with a nerve-wracking last-day finale.

Their season hinges on them taking something from Parkhead – a feat the Dons have failed to do in 14 years and 25 games.

Not only that, the Reds may have to do what no other club have managed this season, or last, and dump the champions on their own turf on Sunday.

Premiership champions and double treble-chasing Celtic have not lost at home domestically since Brendan Rodgers took over two years ago.

Failing to beat Rangers at Pittodrie was a frustrating blow to hopes of finishing second … but it was not fatal.

Aberdeen remain clear in runners-up spot and the opportunity is still there to finish second for a fourth successive season and secure European qualification.

Everything is still in the Dons’ own hands. It is just that the size of the task has suddenly become monumental.

Aberdeen have lost all 25 league games at Parkhead since a 3-2 win in October 2014.

There can be no better way of securing that runners-up spot and the mantle of the nation’s second force by overcoming the Hoops on their own patch on the day they celebrate the title.

Aberdeen must forget the drought of the last 14 years and live in the here and now.

If they perform like they did in the last 30 minutes of the first half they can get the result they need at Parkhead.

The Dons were full of fight, confidence, attacking verve, midfield bite and composure – and were solid at the back.

There is a precedent as boss Derek McInnes oversaw a win at Parkhead – 2-1 in the Scottish Cup in February 2014.

There will be a sense of frustration, because if Aberdeen had performed better in their previous three meetings with Rangers, all defeats, second would have been in the bag already.

This was a game Aberdeen could not lose. Not just in terms of the race for the runners-up spot and securing European qualification.

Losing all four Premiership games to a Rangers team who have been mired in uncertainty and chaos for most of the season would be unacceptable.

Rangers are on their third manager this season, with Jimmy Nicholl in the dug-out in interim charge.

Next season it will be Steven Gerrard, who was appointed as new manager on a four-year deal.

An audacious appointment of a world football great … or a crazy punt on an untested youth coach – whichever way it falls, it won’t be dull.

Aberdeen will need a strong summer window to make sure Celtic are not the only team Gerrard is concerned about.

This was a Pittodrie farewell for some.

Influential midfielder Kenny McLean will return to Norwich City and departed on a high with a superb performance.

It will be difficult to replace McLean as quality of his level does not come on the budget Aberdeen are operating at.

The loan deals for Dominic Ball (Rotherham), Ryan Christie (Celtic), Greg Stewart (Birmingham City) and Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United) all expire at the end of the season.

Deals for Anthony O’Connor and Kari Arnason are also up with no decision yet announced on either.

January signing Sam Cosgrove led the line in only his third start.

Leading goalscorer for the last four seasons, Adam Rooney, and £400,000 signing Stevie May were both on the bench.

Rangers began strongly and created the first opportunity in the fifth minute when Alfredo Morelos shot from eight yards, but keeper Joe Lewis blocked.

Aberdeen were awarded a penalty in the 14th minute when Christie played a low corner short into the box to McLEAN.

Morelos clumsily barged into the midfielder, sending him tumbling to the ground and McLean confidently fired home to the keeper’s right.

Rangers were rattled and soon after so was the bar when McLean unleashed a bullet 30-yard drive that beat the keeper but crashed off the woodwork.

The inspirational McLean again came close when Cosgrove, who was a nuisance to the defence, nodded down a Logan cross.

McLean’s 12-yard volley was saved.

Rangers had a gilt-edged chance in the 57th minute when James Tavernier lifted a cross to the back post to the unmarked Morelos but his diving header was straight at Lewis.

The equaliser came in the 63rd minute when Jason Cummings found Morelos from a throw-in.

He was allowed to drift into the edge of the box and unleash a shot which McKenna blocked, with his header spinning high into the air.

McKenna had a standing start to try to get to the loose ball but Ross McCRORIE raced in and beat him to it to head in from 12 yards.

It was poor defending from Aberdeen.

In the 64th minute Mackay-Steven shot low from the edge of the box but was denied by Alnwick’s diving save.

Rangers were looking the more dangerous and Sean Goss spurned a clear opportunity in the 82nd minute when shooting wide when unmarked.

Moments later Reds substitute Stewart blasted over from the edge of the box.