Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen steamrolled Ross County 3-0 on a chilly Sunday afternoon at the Global Energy Stadium.
The home side made just one change to the side which defeated St Johnstone 1-0 in their last encounter, as experienced defender Keith Watson came into the side in place of injured right-back Connor Randall.
After an unlucky 1-0 defeat to Sporting Lisbon in Portugal on Thursday evening, McInnes made two alterations to his starting XI. Northern Irishman Niall McGinn replaced Dylan McGeouch in the middle of the park, while Scott Wright was picked over the more defensive Shay Logan in the right midfield area.
Right from the off Aberdeen showed their intentions for the game in Dingwall as they started the match in electric fashion with a surge of opportunities. Niall McGinn rocketed a volley just over the crossbar, closely followed by a Wright shot which struck the right-hand post, leaving the County defence with much to be desired.
Ross County were slack in possession in the middle of the park, with the usually resolute pairing Jordan Tillson and Iain Vigurs struggling to obtain a foothold in the match. In the early stages of the first 45 there were countless misplaced passes throughout the County ranks.
McGinn came ever so close to putting the visitors one ahead when a cultured curling effort cracked off the post. Aberdeen were heaping the pressure on Stuart Kettlewell’s men, and were becoming frustrated as they undoubtedly should have been a goal to the good.
Provider of the first goal, Jonny Hayes, was a constant hassle to Ross County. His continuous penetrative and pacey runs had stand-in right back Watson startled. Just as the Staggies were looking like they could see it through to half-time, former Celtic man Hayes whipped in an arrowed deep ball aimed at Marley Watkins.
The on-loan Bristol City man rose above Alex Iacovitti and tucked home a header into the far left corner past Ross Laidlaw, whose outstretched hand wasn’t enough to prevent the Dons from taking the lead.
At the break there was a change of personnel and shape for the Staggies, with Regan Charles-Cook replacing Jordan Tillson, enabling the Highlanders to switch to a 4-4-2.
The change of formation benefitted County, and they started to grow into the game, with Harry Paton and Ross Stewart both coming close, however their efforts were not strong enough to trouble Aberdeen skipper Joe Lewis between the sticks.
Ross County captain Iain Vigurs was booked in the first half for a cynical challenge on Ross McCrorie, as the Staggies number 11 looked to prevent him from running clear on goal. The man he fouled came back to haunt him when the clock struck 60 minutes.
Scotland U21s international Ross McCrorie found himself free in the box with a chance which looked a certain goal. Vigurs dashed back into his own box and upon arrival barged the Don’s number 40 inside the 18 yard box, bringing him crashing to the turf.
Willie Collum pointed to the spot and without hesitation raised a red card above Vigurs’ head, without bothering to show him the second yellow, which sums up the type of challenge inflicted upon the battler.
McCrorie’s midfield partner Lewis Ferguson was the man to step up and take the spot kick for the Dons. He coolly tucked the ball beyond the County keeper, doubling the Red’s advantage as the game headed into the final third.
Stephen Kelly was substituted for the home side in place of Oli Shaw, in order to fill the midfield void left by captain Vigurs. County had some neat interchange in the final third but couldn’t find that defence spitting pass as the extra man of Aberdeen cut off the Staggies options.
Shortly after McGeouch’s arrival, County found themselves in further trouble. A clipped ball into the box struck the arm of young full back Josh Reid, whose body had been deemed to be in an unnatural position by the officials.
A second penalty of the match was awarded to the Dons, and Ferguson had the chance to grab his second, and Aberdeen’s third of the game. He fired the ball into the bottom left corner, his shot having too much venom for Laidlaw to deal with, despite the keeper getting a fairly strong hand on the ball.
At this point, the game was won for Aberdeen. They made a plethora of changes, giving valuable minutes to those who had been finding themselves with limited game time, including young striker Bruce Anderson and fit again Ryan Edmondson, on loan from Leeds United.
Aberdeen dictated in what was a successful trip to the Highlands for McInnes’ men, who now sit fourth place in the Scottish Premiership table, just two points behind Hibernian, with two games in hand on the side from the capital.
A very disappointing afternoon for the Staggies, who drop down one place to seventh. Fans of the Dingwall club would have been disappointed that the boys in blue didn’t put up more of a fight against the Dons.