The summit of the Scottish Premiership was tantalisingly within their grasp but Aberdeen could not grasp their chance to usurp Celtic as league leaders.
For the second game in a row the Dons had to dig deep to earn a share of the spoils but it is champions Celtic, whose manager Ronny Deila was in attendance, who were the real winners in a frustrating night for Derek McInnes’ side.
The Reds were not at their best in Perth but there was no shortage of effort or desire on their part. But, willpower alone is not enough as they found to their cost.
The Dons arrived at McDiarmid Park having accumulated 25 points from a possible 27 and it came as no surprise to see manager Derek McInnes keep changes to a minimum with Willo Flood returning in central midfield following a reshuffle due to the knee injury Ashton Taylor suffered against Dundee last weekend.
Flood took Jonny Hayes’ place in midfield with former Caley Thistle player Hayes dropping to left back in place of Andy Considine, who was moved to central defence alongside Mark Reynolds in place of the absent Taylor.
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright was disappointed with his side’s display in losing 2-0 at Caley Thistle on Tuesday and with this game the third in six days for the Perth club Wright made six changes to his side.
Steven MacLean, Murray Davidson, Gary Miller, Lee Croft, Brian Easton and Chris Kane all came into the side. Frazer Wright, Brian Graham, Liam Caddis, Scott Brown and Michael O’Halloran all dropped to the bench while Dave Mackay was absent due to injury.
Wright’s drastic change in personnel almost paid off in the opening minutes as a mix-up at the back let Kane in on goal but goalkeeper Scott Brown did well to block the attacker’s effort.
Saints swarmed all over an unsettled Aberdeen defence in the opening exchanges with Simon Lappin firing a free kick just wide before David Wotherspoon fired over after beating Reynolds.
The Dons were rattled and second to every ball in the opening 15 minutes as the fired-up Saints, who were accused of downing tools by Caley Jags defender Carl Tremarco up in the Highlands in midweek, threatened with every attack.
But the home side failed to make their early pressure count and the Dons gradually came back into the game with Peter Pawlett seeing a shot blocked before Niall McGinn fired wide from the edge of the box.
With the frenetic pace showing no sign of easing former Don MacLean became the first caution of the night for a dangerously high challenge on Shay Logan but Saints’ perseverance finally paid off on the half hour.
Miller’s cross was half-cleared by the Dons and when the ball was played back across goal Simon Lappin was on hand to volley past Brown from six yards.
The loss of the goal sparked the Dons into life and Saints midfielder Davidson was the next player into the book when he was yellow carded for a rash challenge on David Goodwillie on the halfway line.
Miller was also booked as the pressure built steadily towards the Saints goal before Goodwillie saw one effort blocked and then headed Niall McGinn’s cross against the crossbar. Dons captain Reynolds became the first booking for his side for a trip on Kane just before the break.
McInnes made a change at the break bringing on Cammy Smith for Willo Flood, who had struggled to impose himself in the first half but it was Saints who threatened again after the restart with Croft running on to Kane’s pass only to see his effort come back off the post.
Aberdeen were in need of inspiration and Adam Rooney was the man who produced it.
A long ball forward was headed on by Goodwillie and Rooney did the rest, firing a magnificent 20 yard effort over Saints goalkeeper into his top left hand corner.
It was his 20th goal of the season but without doubt it was the attacker’s best and a fitting way to celebrate his one year anniversary at the Dons.
The Dons surged forward for a winner and Goodwillie’s acrobatic effort at the back post landed on the roof of the net.
With the seconds ticking away the Dons kept the pressure on their opponents and Lawrence Shankland forced Mannus into a save but the visitors were almost caught in injury time with Dons goalkeeper Brown making two outstanding point blank saves to deny Davidson and O’Halloran.