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St Johnstone 3 Aberdeen 0: Saints thrash Dons again

David Wotherspoon celebrates his opening goal.
David Wotherspoon celebrates his opening goal.

If there was a Premiership title race when Aberdeen arrived at McDiarmid Park, there wasn’t one by the time they left.

St Johnstone ripped the Dons apart in as one-sided an encounter as there has been in the top flight this season.

No team has caused more damage to Aberdeen’s league challenge than Saints, with this heavy defeat being added to a 2015/16 list that already had a 5-1 Pittodrie rout and a February draw on it.

In the 5-1 Aberdeen had some cause to claim that the scoreline was harsh on them.

Not here.

David Wotherspoon’s free-kick opener, Steven MacLean’s delicate poacher’s goal and Liam Craig’s second half clincher made this 3-0 scoreline an entirely fair one.

Saints controlled possession, were more creative in attack and much more secure at the back. Crucially (and inexplicably from an Aberdeen perspective) they were also far more hungry.

The Saints players had insisted through the week that post-split motivation wouldn’t be a problem even though Rangers’ Scottish Cup semi-final win killed off the possibility of shooting for a European place in their last five fixtures.

And, with the way they started the game, you had to believe them.

They were at Aberdeen from the off, with Wotherspoon’s cross from the right finding the head of Graham Cummins.

His effort went over and referee Craig Thomson ruled that it touched an Aberdeen man on its way out. From a Wotherspoon corner that the visitors thought shouldn’t have been given Joe Shaughnessy crashed a header off the face of the bar from about five yards out and the rebound didn’t fall kindly for any of his team-mates.

That should have been 1-0 but the Perth men didn’t have long to wait for their opener.

On 14 minutes young debutant Michael Rose fouled Cummins and from the free-kick just over 20 yards out Wotherspoon curled the ball towards the near post. Keeper Scott Brown should have kept it out but the late dip, aided by a slight deflection off the top of Kenny McLean’s head, deceived him and Saints had their lead.

Things just weren’t clicking for a strangely subdued Dons side and their shortcomings in were both boxes were summed up on 21 minutes when one of their corners nearly ended up with a second goal being conceded.

They were opened up on the counter-attack by a Murray Davidson through-ball far too easily and Chris Millar didn’t miss the far post by much with his low left foot shot.

Derek McInnes had started with three at the back for the first time this season. Within half-an-hour he reverted to the familiar four in an effort to change the flow of the match.

It probably wasn’t his formation that was causing this to be a mismatch, though. It was his players. And one of the poorest of the 11 was keeper Brown.

He was a lucky boy when a Wotherspoon corner floated over the top of him and he tripped himself up. Steven Anderson bundled the ball home but the referee – wrongly – awarded the Reds a free-kick.

This moment of good fortune didn’t prove to be a turning point. On 38 minutes the Aberdeen defence was again a shambles when Tam Scobbie launched a long ball to the back post, Anderson nodded it into the danger area and MacLean finished it off with the toe of his boot.

McInnes made one half-time change, replacing youngster Rose with veteran Barry Robson.

It didn’t make any difference as 10 minutes after the re-start it was 3-0.

Mark Reynolds was dispossessed by Millar, who quickly shifted the ball on to Cummins, who in turn picked out Craig. The midfielder had the freedom of the box at the back post and slotted the ball past Brown.

Zander Clark was given a rare start by Tommy Wright and the young keeper must think this first team lark is a stroll in the park. His first start was against the Dons in the 5-1 romp and this was his second.

Clark looked composed – far more so than his opposite number – but he was rarely called into action. Simon Church had a sight of goal on 71 minutes but he scuffed his shot and Clark kept it out with little fuss.

Robson did eventually test him in the dying minutes but the big keeper got a strong hand to a free-kick that was heading for the bottom corner.

St Johnstone – Clark, Scobbie, Anderson, Millar (Doyle 85), Davidson (Lappin 61), MacLean, Wotherspoon, Shaughnessy, Cummins (Kane 80), Fisher, Craig. Subs not used – Mannus, Sutton, Brown, Gordon.

Aberdeen – Brown, Logan, Shinnie, Rose (Robson 45), Reynolds, Jack, Hayes, McGinn (McLennan 83), McLean, Considine, Church. Subs not used – Collin, Flood, Storie, McKenna, Smith.

Referee – Craig Thomson.

Attendance – 3,990.