County piled further misery on the Dons, with the Staggies’ thoroughly deserved victory making it four defeats on the bounce for the Pittodrie side.
A double by forward Brian Graham clinched the points that took Jim McIntyre’s side up to third in the Premiership table, with the attacker netting his first league goals for the club with two opportunistic finishes.
The Reds were thwarted in their attempts to get back into the game by a resolute County defence, marshaled by the outstanding skipper Andrew Davies, but in truth the Staggies could have inflicted further damage had Liam Boyce taken any one of a number of chances afforded to him.
The defeat means Aberdeen will be knocked off the Premiership summit if Celtic take at least a point from their game against Motherwell this weekend.
County were defeated 2-1 by Highland rivals Caley Thistle in their last match, making three changes from that team. A change between the sticks was enforced, with Gary Woods replacing the injured Scott Fox, while captain Andrew Davies and left back Jamie Reckord also returned in place of Scott Boyd and Jonathan Franks, which meant former Don Richard Foster occupied a position on the wide left of midfield.
Aberdeen came into the game on the back of three straight losses, with manager Derek McInnes making four changes from the side thrashed 5-1 by St Johnstone in its last outing. Captain Ryan Jack missed out with a sickness bug, while Shay Logan, Peter Pawlett and Adam Rooney also dropped out. In their place came Paul Quinn, to face the side he captained to safety last season, along with Willo Flood and David Goodwillie. The most notable returnee was Mark Reynolds though, who returned for his first appearance since he sustained a shoulder injury in the Europa League tie against Shkendija in Macedonia on October 2. The defender captaining the side in Jack’s absence, and formed part of a 3-5-2 formation.
Prior to the match, Dons supporters unfurled a banner to show their resentment to the actions of Premiership sponsors Ladbrokes, who triggered a frenzy of social media speculation earlier this week by suspending odds on McInnes being the next top-flight manager to leave his post.
Aberdeen were first to threaten when Niall McGinn tried his luck from long-range, his driven effort held by Woods. At the other end, Liam Boyce’s low effort lacked enough power to trouble Danny Ward after he was teed up by Stewart Murdoch.
David Goodwillie was given a sniff at goal on 16 minutes, after being set up by former Inverness captain Graeme Shinnie, but he sent his fizzing drive just wide of the left-hand post from the angle of the penalty area.
The Reds survived a double let-off midway through the first-half, with a Foster corner causing chaos, the defence scrambling clear point-blank efforts from Brian Graham and Chris Robertson. An even better chance fell the way of top scorer Boyce moments later though, as he cut inside his marker to go clean through, but slipped as he dragged his shot harmlessly wide.
The Staggies began to take firm control of the match, and Boyce came close again with a header from Foster’s cross that was well held by Ward. However it only looked a matter of time before the hosts took the lead. The impressive Foster was released in acres of space down the inside left channel before cutting inside, with Quinn’s intervening tackle falling for Graham to stab the ball home from 10 yards to give his side a deserved lead.
McInnes rang the changes at half-time, bringing on Logan and Rooney for Reynolds and Flood. There was to be no stopping Graham doubling County’s advantage just five minutes into the second-half. Quinn misjudged a long ball to allow Graham in, before the attacker got the break of the ball off Ash Taylor and curled neatly past Ward to leave the Dons in disarray.
The visitors were inches away from pulling one back four minutes later, with Niall McGinn struck a low drive off the post, before the ball fell for Rooney whose follow-up was hacked clear by Reckord. A sure sign it was not the Reds’ night.
Rooney was again thwarted when Woods made a fantastic save with his legs, after the Irishman diverted Jonny Hayes’ free-kick goalwards. However, the scoreline could have been harsher on the Dons had Boyce brought his shooting boots, the Northern Ireland international missing three superb chances in the second-half, but the Staggies saw out for a well-earned win.