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Rooney’s late winner earns Dons semi-final with Morton

Adam Rooney:  Has scored six goals in 15 appearances this season.
Adam Rooney: Has scored six goals in 15 appearances this season.

It looked like it was never going to come but Adam Rooney’s last-minute winner ensured Aberdeen moved a step closer to silverware by reaching the Betfred Cup semi-finals with a tense 1-0 victory against St Johnstone.

This was by no means a classic Aberdeen performance but a very important result in the context of the season.

There has already been plenty of hype regarding Sunday’s meeting with Rangers but this was a hugely important night in determining how successful Derek McInnes’ side could be this year.

And after a drab, forgettable 90 minutes and extra time looming, it was Dons substitute Rooney who proved the difference with a vital goal to set up a semi-final showdown with Morton.

Aberdeen were hoping to join Celtic, Rangers and Morton in the final four of the Betfred Cup but this was a quarter-final that looked fraught with danger.

The Dons had won only one of their previous seven meetings with the Perth Saints – and Tommy Wright’s side arrived at Pittodrie in fine form having tasted defeat only once this season – a 4-2 loss against Celtic

Derek McInnes had initially opted to make two alterations to the team that defeated Dundee 3-1 with this season’s top scorers Niall McGinn and Adam Rooney – both with four goals already – dropped to the bench with Jayden Stockley and Wes Burns drafted in from the start.

It was a bold move but both replacements had made an impact after coming off the bench at Dens Park with Stockley scoring the decisive second goal while Burns won the penalty that allowed Kenny McLean to make sure of the points.

However the Dons were forced into a late change when Jonny Hayes suffered a hamstring injury in the warm-up and McGinn was given the nod to start in his absence.

St Johnstone made five changes from the team that defeated Hearts 1-0 with the cup-tied Richard Foster missing out on the chance to line up against his former club, while on-loan Peterborough United forward Joe Gormley made his first start.

Before the match McInnes said he was desperate for his side to make amends for their disappointing showings in cup football over the past two seasons and they made a promising start to the encounter.

Saints defender Liam Gordon forced to make a brave block to prevent Graeme Shinnie from breaking the deadlock after neat build-up play from Stockley.

There was some more frantic defending from the visitors soon after with Paul Paton throwing his body in the way of a James Maddison drive as the Dons pushed for the breakthrough.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic with Danny Swanson trying his luck from distance before Steven MacLean’s clever chip shot from the edge of the area sailed just over Joe Lewis’ crossbar as the Perth Saints began to find their rhythm.

The tension was growing around Pittodrie the longer the game went without a Dons goal – and the Reds were struggling to get service to a frustrated Stockley and Burns in attack.

After much huffing and puffing, the Dons finally found a way around the well-organised Saints rearguard two minutes before the break when McGinn’s first-time cross gave Burns a chance to test Zander Clark but the on-loan Bristol City player couldn’t convert from 12 yards out.

St Johnstone made their first change only three minutes into the second half with Michael Coulson introduced for the ineffective Gormley.

After a laboured first half, the Dons looked to inject a bit more urgency and pace after the restart but it was St Johnstone who were inches away from taking the lead when Swanson’s powerful, dipping attempt skimmed just over the woodwork.

The Reds should have opened the scoring in the 61st minute when Kenny McLean passed up the best chance of the game so far, volleying over a Maddison corner from close range with the goal at his mercy.

St Johnstone had the ball in the net seven minutes later when Swanson threaded through for David Wotherspoon to slot beyond Lewis but the goal was ruled out for a belated offside decision.

With just under 20 minutes to go, the Dons made a double substitution with Rooney and Peter Pawlett brought on for Stockley and Burns.

The Dons were enjoying the better of the play but they were rarely managing to force Clark into action, although the Saints goalkeeper was alert enough to hold a well-struck McLean free kick.

With three minutes remaining, St Johnstone almost won it with Wotherspoon’s exquisite set-piece tipped onto the post by Joe Lewis.

But it was the Dons who emerged with a late winner in the final minute when Shinnie crossed for Rooney to glance the ball past Clark to put the Dons into the semi-finals.