Evening Express

Analysis: Return of Shinnie, McLean and Logan help restore the Dons’ stature as Scots’ second force

Aberdeen's Shay Logan celebrates making it 2-0 against Kilmarnock.

Aberdeen sent out a message that they are ready to fight to retain their status as Scotland’s second force by dumping in-form Kilmarnock.

Boss Derek McInnes had warned he would not tolerate any self pity or wallowing in the pain of the Scottish Cup semi-final exit to Motherwell.

Instead of being crippled by that Hampden disappointment, the Dons channelled their frustration into strengthening their bid for a runners-up finish.

With a run of three straight games looming against Hearts, Hibs and Rangers, the Dons have their destiny in their own hands.

Everything that was woefully absent from Hampden returned – aggression, drive, composure and a killer touch in front of goal.

A major factor in this upturn was undoubtedly the return of the trio ruled out of the semi by suspension – Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean and Shaleum Logan.

All three were pivotal with McLean turning the game with the opening goal, Logan sealing the win with the second and Shinnie clearing off the line.

It leaves a lingering feeling of “what if” regarding their Scottish Cup bid had those three been available to face the Steelmen.

The failure to cope with the absence of those three key players prompted McInnes to accept his squad was not strong enough, partly due to his business in the previous two transfer windows. He will look to rectify that in what will be a hectic summer window but one huge challenge will be how to replace Scotland international McLean.

It’s not just his skill and vision but his durability – McLean had played in nearly 150 straight games before his recent suspension.

Second spot may be scant consolation to the Red Army after the semi exit but it brings an extra £320,000 in prize money that can enhance the bid to strengthen, and replace McLean, in the summer.

How Kilmarnock boss Stevie Clarke must hate the sight of Aberdeen.

The Dons are the only team to have beaten the Rugby Park outfit since October – and they have done it four times.

The pressure was on the Dons to deliver after the semi defeat. That heat was ramped up before kick-off as Aberdeen dropped a league position down to fourth as Hibs leap-frogged them following their win over champions elect Celtic.

Aberdeen made four changes to the side that lost in the semi with Mark Reynolds back in along with the three returning from suspension.

Andy Considine was suspended with Chidi Nwakal missing with an ankle injury.

Adam Rooney and Kari Arnason dropped to the bench.

Anthony O’Connor retained his starting spot despite a social media outburst in the aftermath of the semi where he criticised Aberdeen supporters.

Aberdeen were denied an opener in the opening minute when Scott McKenna met a free-kick flighted in from Stevie May.

It was a powerful header from the defender but Killie keeper Leo Fasan pulled off a superb instinctive save.

Killie next threatened as Joe Lewis dived to parry a 20- yard drive from Alan Power in the 13th minute.

Soon after Greg Stewart flashed an 18-yard shot over the bar.

Aberdeen made the breakthrough in the 37th minute when McLEAN fired a superb 30-yard drive beyond Fasan.

There was little on and instead of delivering a cross, McLean took a touch and opted for an audacious shot.

It took a bounce in front of keeper Fasan who was out-foxed and then flew inside the near post.

Moments later Logan ran from deep in his own half before firing a 25-yard effort over.

Killie were denied an equaliser in the 50th minute.

Kris Boyd met a Greg Kiltie corner but his 16-yard volley was cleared off the line by skipper Shinnie.

In the 53rd minute, there was a clash between Ryan Christie and Stephen O’Donnell who appeared to lash out at the Don.

The match threatened to boil over as tempers flared with a number of players confronting one another.

In the aftermath referee Nick Walsh booked O’Donnell and McLean. It was harsh on McLean who will now be suspended for the Hibs game on May 5 as the yellow card saw him reach the six bookings threshold.

Aberdeen doubled their advantage in the 59th minute when O’Connor met a flighted free-kick into the box by May.

His powerful header from 15-yards was blocked by an instinctive save from Fasan.

However he couldn’t hold the ball and LOGAN capitalised by clinically firing in from close range. Aberdeen should have made it 3-0 in the 73rd minute when Gary Mackay-Steven played Shinnie into acres of space in the penalty area.

With Rooney lurking, Shinnie opted to shoot and his effort was saved by Fasan.

In the 81st minute keeper Fasan blocked a low drive from Rooney with his right foot as Aberdeen pushed forward for a third.

ABERDEEN: Lewis, Logan, O’Connor, McKenna, Reynolds, Shinnie, Ball, Christie, McLean, Stewart, May. Subs: Rooney (for Christie 64), Mackay-Steven (for May 71), Arnason (for Stewart 85) Subs not used: Woodman, Wright, Harvie, Cosgrove.

KILMARNOCK: Fasan, O’Donnell, Broadfoot, S. Boyd, Findlay, Power, Dicker, Taylor, Kiltie, Brophy, K. Boyd. Subs: Erwin (for S. Boyd 63), Cameron ( for Brophy 72), Burke (for Kiltie 84) Subs not used: MacDonald, Simpson, Wilson, Greer.

Referee: Nick Walsh