Derek McInnes insisted he can turn round Aberdeen’s slump in form after the 2-0 defeat to Hibs intensified the pressure on the manager.
The Dons only managed one shot on target at Easter Road as the home side went five points clear of them in third via two Martin Boyle goals.
Before the game, there had been reports it would be McInnes’ last in the Reds dugout should they suffer defeat – Aberdeen have just two wins in 10 matches, and now haven’t scored in four outings.
It remains to be seen how Pittodrie chairman Dave Cormack will react to the result, the blow softened only slightly by fifth-placed Livingston’s defeat against St Johnstone.
The Dons had suffered an equally miserable 2-0 reverse to the Lions at home in midweek.
After Saturday’s loss to Hibs, McInnes insisted he didn’t fear losing his job and would not walk away from the club he has managed for close to eight years.
He said: “We’re going through a bad spell, but having been through it before, the way out of it is to stick together, work hard and do all we can to turn things round.
“We’ve been used to far better than this over the seasons here and we want to get back to that again as soon as we can.”
Aberdeen are missing any spark in their build-up play and in the final third. To compound this, they lost their best creative player, Ryan Hedges, for the season following the midweek defeat to Livi, with the Welshman requiring surgery on a pectoral injury.
McInnes, who led Aberdeen to the League Cup in 2014, as well as four consecutive second-place Premiership finishes, has asked for “patience” to allow his frontline to come together.
In January, attacking midfielder Scott Wright joined Rangers, while striker Sam Cosgrove joined Birmingham City, Curtis Main left for Shrewsbury Town and Bristol City loanee Marley Watkins – out with a hamstring problem – officially returned to his parent club.
As a result, on deadline day, the Dons brought in loan strikers Fraser Hornby and Callum Hendry, while a third, former Hibs and Rangers man Florian Kamberi, is yet to finalise a work permit and arrive in Scotland, having agreed a loan from Swiss side St Gallen.
McInnes said: “We are going through some changes, some players have moved on and we have injuries too.
“Last time we were at Easter Road, we won with a frontline of Hedges and Wright tucked in behind Watkins, we were fluid, we had a lot of speed about us.
“Trying to reinvent the frontline in January has been difficult and we got Fraser and Callum in for a reason, because they’ve not been playing.
“Unless you’re spending big money, that’s what you have to accept and you do have to have patience.”
After just five minutes at Easter Road, the Dons lost left-back Greg Leigh to a hamstring problem.
Their struggles to find any attacking fluency continued, while – at the other end – Hibs could’ve scored five, but for Joe Lewis’ goalkeeping.
Ultimately, a first-half Boyle penalty, given away by Lewis Ferguson, and late finish from former Northfield Academy pupil Boyle made it a comfortable afternoon for the Hibees.
McInnes complained the penalty shouldn’t have been awarded, saying: “I felt there was nothing in it at the start of the game and certainly the penalty decision had a big bearing on how the first half played out.
“I think Willie Collum is one of our best referees, but I think that’s a poor decision. Murphy’s done well to get in the box, but then he’s toe-poked the ball into the side netting.
“Lewis is trying to stop his momentum and (Jamie) Murphy’s just run into him. Having seen it again, it’s such a harsh decision.”
McInnes praised “top goalkeeper” Lewis for keeping the score down, following the stopper’s howler which saw him gift Livi the opener in midweek.
The Dons manager said his second substitutions, which included subbing Leigh’s replacement Connor McLennan back off, were aimed at getting other players near lone striker Hornby and improving the service into the box.
He explained: “We made changes early in the second half, bringing Hendry and (Niall) McGinn on to try and get three up against their three defenders and to give Fraser more support, but that did leave us a wee bit more exposed and Boyle’s speed and movement capitalised on that again.
“That was probably their only chance second half, but they had the game won at that point, it was up to us to make something happen.
“Despite loads of effort from the players, getting into good areas, the quality of our crossing wasn’t good enough, we have to be honest about that.”