Aberdeen got the win they wanted to send them into the international break in good spirits as Ross County’s fragile defence suffered another day to forget at Pittodrie.
Dons manager Derek McInnes has watched his men put a run of three defeats in a row behind them with two wins and a draw but for Staggies co-managers Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson a third defeat in a row will leave them with much to ponder over the next fortnight.
When County lose a goal, a second invariably follows almost immediately.
No wonder McInnes was pleased.
He said: “From the first roll of the ball we were very bright with our work.
“We stamped our authority on the game and were everything we weren’t at Kilmarnock last week.
“Our front three pulled their defence all over the park, our full backs pushed high up the park and there was intent to get the first goal.
“We passed up two or three really good opportunities before the goal but I was pleased to see the players get their reward and our performance was very good.”
The Dons boss fielded the four fit defenders he had left while County were forced to play a defender, Tom Grivosti, in midfield to bulk up their side for the trip to Pittodrie.
Midfield is arguably Aberdeen’s strongest department and it showed in a strong start for the home side against the Dingwall men and it took a clearance on the goal-line from Keith Watson to prevent Sam Cosgrove from opening the scoring for the Dons in the ninth minute after Ross Laidlaw’s parry from a Niall McGinn low cross had fallen at the forward’s feet.
County toiled to repel the Dons’ attacking threat from the wide areas and McGinn should have done better after Greg Leigh’s cross found him unmarked 14 yards out but he blazed his effort over the crossbar.
The Staggies’ resistance eventually broke 10 minutes before the break as Aberdeen hit them with two goals in two minutes to earn a scoreline which justified their dominance. The Dons’ first came from a well-worked free kick with McGinn’s short ball finding Ryan Hedges and the Wales international’s delivery was guided past Laidlaw thanks to a deft header from Leigh.
It was a fine goal but one which County were aggrieved at losing with the free kick awarded for a handball offence by Ross Stewart which looked generous on the part of referee Nick Walsh.
The official was involved again in the home side’s second. It came from the spot after Lewis Ferguson had beaten Laidlaw in a race to meet Mikey Devlin’s long ball. The referee seemed to take an age to give the penalty but his decision was correct.
Sam Cosgrove beat Laidlaw to score his 10th of the season and double his side’s lead.
Two goals to the good, the Dons effectively put the game beyond the visitors at the start of the second half when Hedges slid in to touch McGinn’s curling delivery past Laidlaw to make it 3-0.
County were gifted an immediate chance to hit back when referee Walsh pointed to the spot after deeming Funso Ojo to have handled a Stewart shot but Staggies striker Billy Mckay failed where Cosgrove had succeeded as his spot kick hit the post.
It became a question of how many for the Dons in the final half hour as Hedges beat Richard Foster before crossing for McGinn only for the Northern Ireland international to shoot wide. Cosgrove then had a shot saved by Laidlaw.
As for County, it just wasn’t their day as they struck the woodwork for a second time with Stewart beating Lewis from the edge of the box with a curling effort only for his shot to rebound off the same post Mckay had hit from the penalty spot.
County co-boss Ferguson believes it is vital his club learns from their defeat.
He said: “A club like Ross County playing in the Premiership is going to come up against tests like this.
“Believe it or not some things were better here than last week. We knew we would be facing a full-on Aberdeen team and we came unstuck with a delivery from a set-play and a penalty.
“For us the penalty knocked the stuffing out of us. We’re a provincial club and sometimes you feel you don’t get the break of the ball or a decision but we have to deal with that and make sure our game plan works better than it did here.”
Makeshift men are praised
Aberdeen’s front three took the plaudits for their performance in the 3-0 win against Ross County but Dons boss Derek McInnes believes his makeshift defence should be lauded for keeping a second consecutive clean sheet.
McInnes had no options defensively as injury ruled out Shay Logan, Scott McKenna and Ash Taylor for the visit of the Staggies but the four players who did feature – Andy Considine, Greg Leigh, Mikey Devlin and Zak Vyner – shone.
McInnes said: “We had a back four which hasn’t played together but it was very capable.
“Mikey – he thinks he is not getting in the team a couple of weeks ago – is now in charge of the jersey. It shows you need that depth, but we had no defenders on our bench.
“It was never going to be easy replacing Max Lowe but Greg has quickly become a fan favourite.”
Craig Bryson also impressed in his hour on the pitch and the Aberdeen manager believes the best is yet to come from his summer signing from Derby County.
He said: “If we can get him up to full speed, and he’s not at full pelt yet, he will bring a different dynamic and influence on the team.”
Supporter’s view: Sidelined players may find themselves on loan
By Chris Crighton
Aberdeen fans may have been craving a little repeatability in an up-and-down start to their season, but this was taking it a bit far.
A first-half opener followed by a Sam Cosgrove penalty and Ryan Hedges completing the scoring was exactly the formula which won the Dons’ other home domestic match this term, and, if County’s radar had been calibrated an inch inside the post instead of dead on it, the two coming back the other way would have been replicated too.
It should be said that that would have put an undue slant on the scoreline, for the Reds, led by international wingers Hedges and Niall McGinn, were well worth the 3-0 win.
It was, for perhaps the first time this domestic campaign, the performance of a team which looked complete and knew what it was about. Just as well, since Derek McInnes shortly afterwards declared his transfer window business over.
If true, and if we take this selection plus the returning Shay Logan to be the preferred starting line, it is notable that it leaves Connor McLennan, Scott Wright and Bruce Anderson, as well as injured Dean Campbell, on the sidelines.
For all that these four should have significant roles to play in the future of the club, it is arguable that it, and they, may be better served by playing elsewhere on Saturdays than jogging behind the Pittodrie goal.
Forced by lack of available options in other areas it may have been, but with Saturday’s bench made up of six attackers and a goalkeeper, it stands to reason that a couple of those youngsters could be sent on loan without practically weakening McInnes’ matchday hand.
It remains to be seen, of course, whose numbers may pop up on McInnes’ phone today.