The team who loses their discipline, usually loses the match.
In my time on the pitch and off the field as a manager, I learned this.
Two weekends in a row – in Aberdeen’s 3-0 Scottish Cup semi-final loss to Celtic and Saturday’s 1-0 win against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park – we’ve seen teams lose sight of this.
After four red cards – two for Dom Ball and Lewis Ferguson, with boss Derek McInnes and assistant Tony Docherty also sent to the stands – at Hampden, I was pleased to see the Dons putting the emphasis on keeping their discipline ahead of such a crucial league game against Killie.
I know how difficult it can be against Celtic and Rangers, and how intense the cauldron can be.
If you lose control, the game’s gone.
This time, it was the opposition who lost it.
There are arguments which can be made from Kilmarnock’s perspective, by Steve Clarke or otherwise, and the perspective of the referee and Aberdeen, against or in support of Killie’s three ordering offs.
I don’t think referee Steven McLean ever got a handle on what was a crucial, tense game, but you can’t say any of the red cards, nor the on-the-pitch ones dished out by Craig Thomson at Hampden, were wrong, in my opinion.
I thought both Dom Ball and Lewis Ferguson were reckless in the challenges which saw them sent off at Hampden, and they deserved to go.
“Reckless” can also be used to describe Kirk Broadfoot’s unintentional, but out-of-control lunge at Joe Lewis’ face with his boot on Saturday.
It had to be a straight red.
Similarly, Stuart Findlay’s second yellow for a rash tackle which crocked Reds skipper Graeme Shinnie was definitely a booking.
Rory McKenzie then lashes out at Dom Ball. Maybe the Killie player should have had a free-kick before he took things into his own hands, but of course it’s an ordering off.
All five were red cards to my mind.
On Saturday, the environment at Rugby Park was hostile, given the importance of the fixutre as both teams battle for third place and a European qualifying spot.
It’s hard for players and managers to keep their cool.
But the lesson is – the team which best keeps their heads invariably win and the Dons did just that.
Clarke, who stormed down the tunnel before full-time, might have impressed the Killie fans with his actions, but he did nothing for his team – only 1-0 down.
With the fight for third still on, Killie’s actions will carry over into more of the post-split fixtures, with suspensions to come.
Clarke, given his post-match comments about McLean not being able to referee Killie games correctly because of his dad’s association with the club, will likely see him sanctioned.
The authorities will have to take action there to protect their employee.
In contrast to Clarke and Killie’s loss of control, McInnes showed an astute piece of management to hook top goalscorer Sam Cosgrove at half-time.
The big striker was walking a tightrope, having been booked.
He could’ve had another yellow before the break for going in on Findlay.
It was a risk to take a potential source of a winning goal off so early, but underlined Aberdeen have learned their lesson from Hampden about keeping emotions in check.
Ultimately, as Killie’s discipline disappeared, Aberdeen were there to capitalise and take a vital three points.