As expected Derek McInnes made two changes to the side that beat Ross County on Sunday with Russell Anderson and Barry Robson coming back into the side and Joe Shaughnessy and Nicky Low dropped to the bench. Nicky in particular can consider himself unlucky not to be involved after his performance last time out but it highlights the strength of the Dons squad in certain positions at the moment. Calvin Zola and Andrew Considine both missed the game as they were still injured.
The Dons lined up in the familiar 4-4-1-1 formation with Langfield in goal, Hector at right back, Anderson and Reynolds in central defence and Jonny Hayes filled in at left back again. Barry Robson played on the right side of midfield, Flood and Jack were the holding players with McGinn on the left, Pawlett played his free role in behind the striker and Vernon was that striker again today. United lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and made eight changes to the side that was beaten by St Johnstone.
The game kicked off in torrential rain but there was a tremendous atmosphere inside Tannadice with the ground completely full. Of the 12,601 in attendance, there were 3,516 Aberdeen fans. Not surprisingly the early stages were frantic. Both teams were closing each other down very quickly and the game had a cup tie feel to it. On 10 minutes Willo Flood won the Dons the first corner of the game but Robson's effort was comfortably claimed by Cierzniak who disappointingly was not put under any pressure. On 15 minutes Hector won the Dons a free kick in a very promising position after a great surging run. Again the Dons did not make the most of the set piece and United hit on the break. Flood was forced to take one for the team by taking out Mackay-Steven and was given a yellow card.
Aberdeen had the better of the opening 20 minutes and slightly shaded the possession. United seemed happy to try and use their pace and hit on the break. On 22 minutes Hector won another free kick but Robson's ball drifted harmlessly wide. The conditions were making the delivery of the ball a challenge.
On 24 minutes, United's first real attack saw Ciftci make a great run and beat both Reynolds and Hayes but Flood read the situation and was able to cover across and make a great tackle which did enough to put Ciftci off and in the end Langfield made a routine save. A minute later Pawlett was seen for the first time in the game when he popped up in behind the United defence. He managed to win the Dons their second corner but again Aberdeen could do nothing with it, McGinn this time putting the ball over.
The pace of the game was incredible and the slick conditions were making things even quicker.
On 28 minutes the highly rated Robertson put a good ball in but Hayes did well to get the ball behind. Hayes defensively did a really good job this afternoon. United had their first corner but Robson headed clear. A minute later Flood was stopped in his tracks by Mark Wilson and he correctly was booked. Flood was having some battle in the middle of the park against his former team mates. Despite having being booked Willo was still getting stuck in, he just had to make sure his tackles were timed perfectly - which they were. He controlling the midfield area the whole game and was probably the man of the match.
On the half hour mark the first real chance. It came about after good closing down play again from the Aberdeen midfield. Pawlett dispossessed Souttar who slipped and the Dons player was in. He was at a slight angle but decided to shoot and went for power. His shot was straight at Cierzniak but the keeper still made a decent save and parried it behind. Pawlett might have been better to play in Vernon or Robson who were both in good positions and unmarked. The resulting corner was missed by the United keeper and there was a stramash in the six yard box as the ball got stuck in the mud. Eventually Mark Wilson was able to hack the ball to safety. Corners in that goalmouth were tricky for the goalkeeper and defenders because of the conditions and Aberdeen maybe should have made more of the chances they had.
The Dons were continuing to enjoy the majority of the possession. United's threat this season had come from the pace of their front players but the pace of Hayes and Reynolds at the back was preventing the home side from doing anything in an attacking sense.
The game burst into life in the final five minutes of the half. On 40 minutes United got away with another mistake at the back when a short back pass very nearly let Vernon in. Cierzniak had to race out of his box and he only just got there ahead Scott. The referee penalised Scott for his challenge which was extremely harsh, the ball was there to be won. Then another opening for Vernon minutes later. On break he got himself to the edge of the box before cutting inside and then it appeared as if Gunning clipped him. Frustratingly the ball was knocked out of the path of McGinn who got up in support and was just about to shoot. Back came United and Mackay-Steven had a shot which was deflected behind for a corner before the Dons went up the park and won another corner themselves. McGinn's ball in again caused problems but nobody in a white jersey could get a head on it.
Aberdeen continued to dominate at the start of the second half. McGinn broke free down the left and he cut the ball back. It eventually broke for Pawlett but his effort was blocked by Souttar, the United defender did well and prevented an almost certain goal. From the resulting corner Pawlett got the break of the ball again and hit a thundering drive which looked a goal all the way but Cirzniak made an excellent block. It was a very good reaction save as he would have seen the shot very late.
On 50 minutes the Dons were made to pay for not taking their chances when United took the lead against the run of play. Reynolds initially did well to prevent the very quiet Gauld from advancing but was forced to give away a corner. The ball was swung in and missed by everyone at the near post area which allowed Souttar a chance to deflect the ball into the empty net, and he took it. The conditions probably played a big part in the goal but there will be an inquest into what went wrong from the Dons point of view after the game. It must be said it was the only time all afternoon United looked like scoring. The Dons defence otherwise were outstanding.
The goal had come out of nothing as the Dons had looked completely comfortable up until that point. The goal gave United a big lift and Aberdeen had to weather a storm for a spell.
On 55 minutes Paton was booked for a cynical foul on Pawlett. Then on the hour mark, movement on the subs bench - Scott Vernon was replaced by Josh Magennis. Scott as ever had run himself into the ground but three games in a week had maybe taken their toll. Minutes after that Aberdeen bench were incensed when Paton again took Pawlett down but referee Cullum chose to wave play on. The game was threatening to boil over.
On 63 minutes a lifeline for the Dons. Robson played a long diagonal ball into the box looking for Josh Magennis. The ball bounced up and struck Robertson on the arm and after a few seconds delay the referee point to the spot. As the United players protested Barry Robson stepped forward and claimed the ball. The midfield had to show composure as the ball kept moving off the spot but he eventually got it spotted before thumping a superb penalty high into the net. That is how you take a penalty.
On 69 minutes United made a double change to try and wrestle the momentum away from the Dons. Gomis and Graham came on; Paton and Gauld were taken off. On 70 minutes Souttar made a superb tackle after a Robson through ball had put Magennis in. A minute later Josh was booked for an enthusiastic tackle. On 72 minutes United burst into the box and Armstrong got to the by-line but Reynolds was in position to make a vital interception. Reynolds was simply outstanding all afternoon. Quite how he does not get in the Scotland squad is a mystery. Hopefully 2014 will see him getting his chance at International level. Then at the other end Hector had a bullet header at the back post which went inches wide. The reaction from the defender led you to believe it was a good chance.
The past 15 minutes had been very end to end but the Dons dominated the final quarter of an hour. Again their fitness levels were incredible. On 75 minutes Robson instigated another move when he cut back onto his left foot and put over a great cross. Magennis did well to head the ball back into the danger area where Hector squared it to McGinn. The striker had time to pick his spot but his effort produced a fantastic save by Cierzniak. On 81 minutes Magennis flicked it onto Pawlett. Peter this time elected to shoot early and tried to put the ball across the keeper but it was an easy save for Cierzniak. On 85 minutes the Dons won a free kick after more pressure. They put together a training ground move which created space for Hector but his ball into the box was disappointing. A chance wasted. Hector then set up Hayes but with his right foot shot was blasted well over.
The Dons kept going for the winner and in the last minute they got the reward their play deserved. Once again United gave away a free kick after Flood had won the ball in the middle of the park. Robson's free kick was played in, Gunning did not deal with it, he probably tried to head it behind but could only hit his goalkeeper. The keeper parried it but Pawlett was on hand to bundle the ball home from about six yards. The Dons fans went berserk.
In injury time Pawlett was replaced by Shaughnessy and there was one heart stopping moment when a Hector mistake allowed Graham an opening but thankfully he put his effort over. Apart from that the Dons defended brilliantly and held out. This was a very well deserved three points and a great start to 2014.