The return of striker Sam Cosgrove cannot come quickly enough for Aberdeen if Saturday’s stalemate at Tannadice is anything to go by.
The Dons dominated for large spells in the first New Firm derby for more than four years, but the winning goal proved elusive as they were forced to settle for their first draw of the season.
It is a credit to the Dons they have coped so admirably without their talisman Cosgrove, who is yet to feature this term after suffering a knee injury in a pre-season friendly against Hibernian.
The Englishman has returned to training and Dons boss Derek McInnes would love to have him available for the upcoming double-header against Celtic.
But they could have badly done with his physical presence at Tannadice at the weekend on a day when they had to settle for a single point when they had carved out more than enough chances to claim all three.
Marley Watkins led the line for the Dons, but he struggled to get any joy against a deep-lying Tangerines defence.
A rearguard containing Mark Reynolds and Mark Connolly was never likely to afford Watkins the space to use his pace.
Instead, the former Caley Thistle forward cut a frustrated figure, deprived of meaningful service and forced to remain on the periphery of the game.
The Dons should have had the points wrapped up by half-time.
A low drive from Jonny Hayes inside two minutes set the tone for the early exchanges before the blossoming Scott Wright and Ryan Hedges partnership almost bore fruit.
Hedges’ pass was a touch on the heavy side, but Wright did well to scoop the ball past the advancing United goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist only for the recovering Connolly to hack the ball off the line.
Tommie Hoban almost marked his contract extension with a goal, but nodded wide from a corner before Connor McLennan, chosen ahead of Niall McGinn in Aberdeen’s only change, felt he should have had a penalty after tumbling to the ground following a Reynolds challenge.
The Dons were apoplectic when a much stronger claim was also waved away by referee Alan Muir.
On this occasion, Lawrence Shankland appeared to use his hand to block a goal-bound effort from Ross McCrorie and McInnes felt the whistler got that one wrong.
He said: “We take ownership and responsibility for not winning the game but there was a real penalty shout when Lawrence Shankland handled.
“His body shape changed as he leant forward and down to stop it.
“I was really surprised that wasn’t given.
“Having seen it again, it’s a penalty kick every day of the week and we should be getting that.”
There was time before the break for another golden chance for the Dons when Wright capitalised on some sloppy play by Ian Harkes to set up Jonny Hayes, but the former Celtic player dragged his effort wide.
United were fortunate to make it to the break unscathed and it was little surprise to see Scotland striker Marc McNulty introduced to proceedings early in the second half in place of the ineffective Nicky Clark.
Aberdeen also looked to the bench for answers with on-loan Leeds United striker Ryan Edmondson replacing Wright, while McGinn almost netted with his first touch from a curling free kick after coming on for McLennan.
But the Dons almost paid the ultimate price for their profligacy in the closing stages when a superb pass from McNulty set up Logan Chalmers, but goalkeeper Joe Lewis came to the Dons’ rescue with an excellent stop.
McInnes said it would have been “an absolute travesty” had United taken the points, but accepted his side were wasteful in the final third.
He said: “When Dundee United defended their box as deep as they were, we were looking for more of a penalty box striker.
“Maybe a Cosgrove type would have been ideal for that when we were putting balls in there.
“I thought we were guilty of maybe over-egging it rather than taking more shots, getting more crosses in the box and making their keeper work a bit more.
“For us to be where we want to be to this season it is important we win games like this.”
The Dons will be desperate to show more of a cutting edge when Hamilton Accies visit Pittodrie tomorrow evening ahead of back-to-back meetings against Celtic.
DUNDEE UNITED (3-5-2) – Siegrist 7, Connolly 7, Edwards 7, Reynolds 6 (L Smith 63), Butcher 7 (Powers 78), Harkes 6, Bolton 6, Robson 6, Pawlett 6 (Chalmers 78), Shankland 6, Clark 5 (McNulty 57). Subs not used – C Smith, Appere, Neilson, Mehmet, Fotheringham.
ABERDEEN (3-4-3) – Lewis 7, Hoban 7, Taylor 7, Considine 7, McLennan 6 (McGinn 74), McCrorie 7, Ferguson 6, Hayes 6, Wright 6 (Edmondson 63), Hedges 7, Watkins 5. Subs not used – Woods, Logan, Ojo, McGeouch, Hernandez, Ramsay, Ngwenya.
Referee – Alan Muir 5.
Man of the match – Benjamin Siegrist.