Aberdeen could not find the three points they craved on a special weekend for the club but there was enough on display to suggest the Dons’ season could yet take a positive turn.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s return ensured nostalgia was in the air around Pittodrie but it is the here and now, not to mention the not too distant future which occupied new manager Jim Goodwin on his home debut.
Sir Alex spent his weekend back in the Granite City reminiscing about eight glorious years at Pittodrie.
A common theme among the former Dons boss and the Gothenburg Greats who spoke about him prior to his statue being unveiled on Friday had been the importance of mentality and belief.
That desire to succeed no matter what was the hallmark of Ferguson’s management and not just at Pittodrie.
New Dons boss Jim Goodwin must have found himself bringing up the same qualities in his pre-match talk with his players after finding his options stretched to the limit for his home debut.
Goodwin’s options stretched for home debut
With Marley Watkins, Scott Brown, Andy Considine and Mikey Devlin all nursing injuries Goodwin found his options restricted further.
He lost the services of Jonny Hayes, Calvin Ramsay, Ross McCrorie, Jack MacKenzie and Jay Emmanuel Thomas from the side which drew 1-1 with Motherwell at Fir Park last weekend.
The timing could not have been worse with Sir Alex watching in the stand and the new boss taking up residence in the home dugout for the first time.
It was so grim Goodwin could only name five substitutes. Two of them – Michael Ruth and Jack Milne – have a combined two minutes of Premiership experience between them.
The list of absentees meant the new manager’s team was effectively picked for him with Connor McLennan finding himself deployed as emergency right back.
Worst start possible
The last thing the Dons needed was to lose an early goal but that’s exactly what they did.
Only David Bates knows why he thought it was a good idea to grab a hold of Ian Harkes’ shirt in the box but what followed was inevitable.
Harkes went down, referee David Munro pointed to the spot, Bates received a yellow card for his troubles and Marc McNulty sent Joe Lewis the wrong way with his penalty to put United in front.
The degree of difficulty of that test of Aberdeen’s mental strength doubled instantly.
The stunned home fans stayed with their side, however, and they were responded with a first half which offered much in the way of optimism not just in this game but for the rest of the campaign.
Aberdeen buoyed by quick equaliser
Aberdeen piled the pressure on the Tangerines’ backline and were rewarded with an equaliser when Matty Kennedy stabbed home the loose ball from less than a yard out after Benjamin Siegrist parried Vicente Besuijen’s shot into his path, although Dundee United defender Ryan Edwards was credited with the final touch.
The Dons were not fluent, but there was a tempo to their play, especially in the final third, which was such a welcome sight in this most inconsistent of campaigns.
Besuijen and Kennedy were at the heart of all that was good about Aberdeen’s forward play in the first half.
Besuijen’s fine turn, run and pass released Funso Ojo down the right wing and the Belgian picked out the onrushing Christian Ramirez with pinpoint accuracy only for the Dons striker to fire over the crossbar.
Kennedy repeated the trick from the left wing when he found Besuijen but the winger, like Ramirez before him, blazed over the crossbar with the goalkeeper to beat.
Second half pressure did not bring reward of a goal
The second half lacked the clear-cut chances of the opening 45 minutes but if a goal was going to come it was for the home side.
Siegrist denied Lewis Ferguson three times and Teddy Jenks while Besuijen dragged a shot wide and both Ramirez and Kennedy just failed to connect with crosses into the box as Aberdeen tried to find a second goal.
But their pressure did not bring the goal their manager, and no doubt the watching former boss craved.
Goodwin’s team selection may have forced his hand due to unavailability but the new Dons boss will surely have taken plenty positives from a committed display from his side.
Aberdeen (4-3-3) – Lewis 6, McLennan (McGeouch 67) 6, Gallagher 6, Bates 6, Montgomery (Ruth 90) 6, Ojo 6, Ferguson 7, Barron 7, Kennedy (Jenks 77) 7, Besuijen 7, Ramirez 6. Subs not used – Woods, Milne.
Dundee United (3-4-3) – Siegrist 7, Edwards 7, Mulgrew 7, Graham 6, Smith 6, McDonald (Freeman 87) 6, Harkes 6, Levitt (Butcher 41) 4, Niskanen 6, McNulty 6, Watt (Clark 76) 6. Subs not used – Eriksson, Akinola, Meekison, Neilson, Mochrie, McMann.
Referee – David Munro.
Attendance – 18,719.
Man of the match – Vicente Besuijen.