Aberdeen will head into their Betfred Cup semi-final with Rangers as a bottom-half side after a disappointing 2-1 slide against Hearts.
A 45 minutes to forget gave them a mountain to climb against the Jambos, who hold on to their lofty perch above the rest of the Scottish Premiership.
Aberdeen made one change, recalling James Wilson for Connor McLennan, who had recovered from a shoulder injury on his goalscoring debut to make the bench.
How Hearts would cope with the absence of two key players – John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu – being ruled out with long-term injuries, was going to have an impact on the game. Derek McInnes retained Sam Cosgrove up front, perhaps looking to take advantage of a lack of physicality in a Hearts defence also missing Christophe Berra.
Attention has been diverted away from Aberdeen this season, in no small part due to Hearts’ impressive start. The onus would then be on Steven Naismith, enjoying a renaissance of his career at Tynecastle which has earned him a recall to the Scotland set-up, to carry their attacking threat.
Naismith and Steven MacLean pressed from the front and refused to give the Dons time to play out, which resulted in them conceding a lot of cheap possession in their own half. McInnes switched to a 4-2-3-1, pushing Ferguson central and Wilson dropping wide left, to give them greater numbers in the final third, but they struggled to work Zdenek Zlamal.
When the hosts went ahead nine minutes before the break it was not a huge surprise, given the majority of the play had been in the Aberdeen half, with Djoum running across the six-yard box to glance Callum Morrison’s cross beyond a stationary Joe Lewis.
Their intensity in the final third of the pitch, led by MacLean and Naismith, created numerous problems and the latter earned himself a penalty on 41 minutes when Ferguson was adjudged to have handled in the area after colliding with Naismith.
Whether Naismith had been clever or not to win the penalty was there to be argued and he inflicted further punishment on the visitors by tucking his spot-kick away.
It was an Aberdeen team short on ideas, with the long ball to Cosgrove an unsuccessful ploy given the dominance of Clevid Dikamona in their aerial dual.
Cosgrove’s half-time replacement Niall McGinn had the more desired effect, winning a penalty out of Godinho nine minutes into the second period. Mackay-Steven duly finished from the spot to hand the visitors a lifeline.
In a game with 45 fouls, 11 bookings and three penalties, action was never short, with referee Kevin Clancy desperate to keep a lid on the game and avoid sending anyone off.
The introduction of McGinn and Scott Wright gave the Dons pace and direction going forward, but they still had to rely on Lewis keeping out Naismith from the spot at the other end.
Mackay-Steven had a low, curling effort kept out by Zlamal but it was too late.