After 574 minutes of frustration, Aberdeen finally shook off the shackles of a club-record scoring drought that had been damaging to the Premiership campaign.
In ending the worst goalless run in the club’s 118-year history with their 1-0 win at home to Kilmarnock, the Reds also halted a six-match run without a victory.
With only two wins in 12 matches and a meagre 11 points from 36 this was a game Aberdeen just had to win – especially when the shocking form of Killie, on a club-record-equalling seven-game losing streak prior to kick-off, was factored into the equation.
Aberdeen had to secure three points. They delivered with a much-needed win that will take some of the pressure off manager Derek McInnes, who has never lost in 32 outings against Killie since taking the reins, and his squad.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective against a physical side from Ayrshire.
Now the Dons must ensure this long-awaited victory is the catalyst for a resurgence in form and a sustained push to overhaul Hibernian in third spot.
The Easter Road club are four points clear in third but hold a game in hand.
With eight games remaining in the Premiership campaign, the Dons can still overhaul Hibs, although it will require a run of form not shown in recent months.
Securing a third-placed finish has added weight this season as it will secure Scotland’s only remaining Europa League spot if the Scottish Cup is won by the clubs that finish first or second in the table.
If the Scottish Cup is not completed due to the pandemic, as looks likely due to the ongoing suspension of leagues below the Championship, the team in third will get the Europa League spot, with fourth and fifth qualifying for the new Uefa Conference League.
Another bonus for the club that secures a Europa League spot is that they will enter at the play-off round – just one tie away from the group stages which will generate almost £3 million in prize money alone.
That is the target the Dons have failed to reach in seven successive European campaigns. Now it can be secured via domestic route.
It gets better. Clubs crashing out of the Europa League drop into the Conference League – guaranteeing football after the New Year. But Hibs are very much in pole position for that third-placed finish.
The Easter Road side have created space for a little wriggle room. Aberdeen have no real leeway for slip-ups, especially with their next fixture away to Celtic on Saturday.
Pre-kick-off omens didn’t points to a classic – and it wasn’t one
This was a battle of two sides both mired deep in scoring crises. While the Dons had a six-game barren run, Killie had failed to score in six of their previous seven matches.
Over the piece, both sides managed four shots on target, with two in each half for both teams.
Aberdeen forced a save in the third minute when Lewis Ferguson unleashed a powerful 15-yard drive, but keeper Colin Doyle pushed it wide for a corner.
The bid to end the goal drought suffered a setback when on-loan striker Fraser Hornby suffered an injury.
The Stade de Reims centre-forward sustained the injury in the process of shooting.
As the effort skimmed wide, Hornby crumpled to the pitch.
After treatment he hobbled off to be replaced by another loan striker, Callum Hendry of St Johnstone. Aberdeen responded immediately to the injury with their first goal in almost 600 minutes.
Throughout the slump, the work ethic and conviction of the Dons was never in doubt – they just lacked a creative spark.
Niall McGinn delivered it with a superb free-kick from the right that substitute Hendry rose high above the defence to meet and fire in from 15 yards beyond keeper Doyle with his first touch.
It was an argument for more game time for both veteran McGinn and St Johnstone loanee Hendry.
Super-sub Callum Hendry’s performance against Kilmarnock in numbers:
- Played 70 minutes after replacing fellow loanee Fraser Hornby
- One shot on target (his towering header of a first touch on 21 minutes which broke the Dons’ goal drought)
- Two key passes to create chances (appeared to get a nick to guide the ball to Ross McCrorie to hit the crossbar on 83 minutes)
- Nine passes in the opposition half, with a tidy 66.7% completion rate
- 25 touches of the ball, with six in and around the Killie area, winning one foul in his time on the field
- Won possession five times, gave it away 13 times
This Aberdeen side are very adept at protecting leads. Only twice since the start of the 2017-18 season have they lost a game they had scored first – against Hearts and Livingston. The problem in recent months was getting that first goal.
In the 34th minute, Lewis raced off his line to save from Nicke Kabamba who had bore in on goal.
Kilmarnock switched to five at the back at half-time and it became a tougher prospect to break them down. In the 51st minute, Kabamba broke in on goal, but fired well wide from eight yards out with Mitchell Pinnock open for a squared pass.
In the 61st minute, Florian Kamberi played Ferguson in on goal, but the midfielder dragged his shot wide.
Aberdeen were denied a second by the woodwork in the 83rd minute when Ross McCrorie shot from inside the box, hitting the bar.