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Aberdeen 2-0 Kilmarnock – The Verdict: Player ratings, talking points and star man as Dons move third in Premiership

Duk double and another clean sheet sees Barry Robson get the better of former Pittodrie boss Derek McInnes and take charge of race for lucrative European spot after Hearts lose again.

Aberdeen's Luis 'Duk' Lopes celebrates scoring to make it 1-0 against Kilmarnock with teammate Bojan Miovski. Image: SNS.
Aberdeen's Luis 'Duk' Lopes celebrates scoring to make it 1-0 against Kilmarnock with teammate Bojan Miovski. Image: SNS.

Aberdeen took control of the race to secure lucrative European group stage football next season – their 2-0 Pittodrie win over Kilmarnock seeing them leapfrog Hearts to go third in the Premiership.

The victory against Killie – courtesy of double from Luis ‘Duk’ Lopes – means the Dons are now two points clear of the nosediving Jambos, who lost 2-0 at home to St Mirren on Saturday.

Aberdeen have remarkably managed to claw back a gap which had stretched to 10 points during the Reds’ struggles following the World Cup break.

Recently-appointed manager Barry Robson has six wins in his last seven matches in charge, with Aberdeen securing five straight Premiership victories for the first time August 2015.

Aberdeen manager Barry Robson. Image: SNS

The clash against Kilmarnock, who have not won away from home in the Premiership this season, could not have got off to a better start for Aberdeen.

Robson had been forced to rejig his midfield three for the game due to skipper Graeme Shinnie being suspended, and he brought in youth academy graduate Ryan Duncan to start in an advanced midfield role, with Leighton Clarkson moving back to partner Ylber Ramadani.

Moments after kick-off, Duncan won the ball from Killie’s Liam Donnelly and played it forward to striker Bojan Miovski. The North Macedonian, in turn, played an expertly-weighted pass through the visitors’ backline to Duk, who slotted low and left beyond Killie goalkeeper Sam Walker – with just 16 seconds on the clock.

With 10 minutes of the opening period remaining, Aberdeen were denied a penalty when Killie defender Jeriel Dorsett bundled over Miovski just as he was at the point of pulling the trigger on a low cross from Duk, with more penalty calls when Jonny Hayes claimed he was pulled down by Killie’s Daniel Armstrong as he broke into the box.

Although Duncan, Duk and Miovski impressed with their interplay in the opening period, only more heroics from goalie Kelle Roos – who preserved the win late on at St Johnstone one week earlier – kept Aberdeen in front by half-time.

The keeper first dived to his right to palm away a low cross-goal volley from Killie forward Christian Doidge, before also stopping a Liam Donnelly header destined for the top right corner.

Both teams had chances at the start of the second period, and it became apparent the game would hinge on the second goal – and Aberdeen, eventually, got it.

On 59 minutes, Clarkson played a pinpoint long pass through to Miovski, who showed brilliant awareness on the left side of the area to square to Duk to tap in at the back post.

Mattie Pollock volleyed a fraction wide of the right upright as the Dons pressed for a third soon afterwards.

Killie thought they had a consolation goal in injury time through Scott Robinson’s finish from a corner – only for it to be ruled out for offside – while Walker denied Ross McCrorie Aberdeen’s third from close-range in the game’s final act.

Talking points:

Barry Robson’s solid Dons help him get the better of former Pittodrie boss Derek McInnes – and take another step towards Europe

Aberdeen’s turnaround under Barry Robson has been stark.

As well as the statistics noted above, the 2-0 victory against Kilmarnock was yet more evidence of the long-needed foundation of solidity Robson and assistant Steve Agnew have managed to implement since taking charge, originally on an interim basis, and it is four clean sheets in five outings now for the Dons.

The win over Killie saw Robson get the better of former Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes in the opposite dugout – the man who was his boss for close to eight years.

But, putting the personal milestones aside, the victory looks a huge one in a bid to finish third in the top-flight which has been brought back from the dead by Robson and Agnew.

Aberdeen’s Luis Lopes is hugged by his manager Barry Robson. Image: SNS

It is an important goal for the club this term – as third guarantees at least Conference League group stage group football and a minimum financial reward of around £3 million going by this season’s prize money (provided semi-finalists Caley Thistle or Falkirk don’t win the Scottish Cup next month).

Aberdeen were in the lower half of the Premiership under Jim Goodwin not very long ago.

Achieving a third-place finish – which they are surely now favourites for – would make it a certainty Robson, on a short-term deal for now, will remain as manager for next season.

Replacing Graeme Shinnie in XI with Ryan Duncan

Barry Robson filled the slot left in his team following Graeme Shinnie’s dismissal in the 1-0 win at St Johnstone with Dons youth academy product Ryan Duncan.

Most often used as a wideman, Duncan had only started three Premiership matches this season before Saturday, with a further 14 top-flight appearances from the bench.

His one league start in midfield? December’s 2-1 defeat at Kilmarnock, where Duncan started alongside Ylber Ramadani and the currently injured (groin) Connor Barron.

For Killie’s visit, Robson shifted his usual no.10 Leighton Clarkson back to partner Ramadani, with Duncan playing behind strikers Bojan Miovski and Duk.

Duncan, 19, made an immediate impression in the seconds before Duk’s rapid opening goal, and he continued to influence proceedings with his pace and at-times-scintillating interplay with the two players ahead of him.

Kilmarnock’s Liam Donnelly and Aberdeen’s Ryan Duncan. Image: SNS

Liverpool loanee Clarkson, 21, to give him his due, was also effective in the deeper midfield position, and still able to contribute in an attacking sense – with a superb pass ahead of the second goal.

Clarkson could have scored himself when he was sent through with just defender Dorsett and keeper Walker to beat at the start of the second half, only to hesitate too long, and a late effort to make it 3-0 from just inside the Killie area also trickled just beyond Walker’s left post.

Duk reaches 17 for the season

There was a general consensus among fans, despite Aberdeen’s victory at St Johnstone, this season’s star man Duk had a poor game.

If anyone arrived at Pittodrie wondering whether he would quickly be back to his all-action best… he had answered before many had likely taken their seats.

Aberdeen’s Luis Lopes scores to make it 1-0 against Kilmarnock after 20 seconds. Image: SNS

The summer signing from Benfica, following a quiet post-international break appearance in Perth, is now on 17 goals for the season in all competitions (15 in the league).

His striker partner, Bojan Miovski, who teed him up twice v Killie and was also excellent in the game, has 17 goals of his own this term.

Although other areas of the Dons transfer business can and have been criticised, bringing in two strikers with 34 goals between them so far was masterful recruitment.

Talking tactics

Barry Robson stuck with a 3-5-2 of sorts for the Dons’ meeting with Killie, with Duncan for Shinnie the only change in the XI.

Ajax loan keeper Jay Gorter replaced veteran Joe Lewis on the bench after recovering from an ankle problem, as Robson opted to stick with his Dutch compatriot Roos in goal.

Left-back Hayden Coulson was also back among the substitutes, having been granted a period of compassionate leave for the Saints game after being involved in a 17-vehicle road accident near Stonehaven.

Referee watch

Don Robertson waved away two Aberdeen penalty claims in the opening period, and at first glance, the first one looked to be a stonewaller.

Miovski was about to smash Duk’s low ball from the left home from eight years out for an early 2-0 lead, but was bundled over from behind by Killie defender Dorsett.

It looked a very clumsy challenge, and a clear penalty – yet neither Robertson, the near-side linesman (who was in line with the incident), nor VAR were moved.

The second shout, for a pull-back by Armstrong on Hayes as the Reds’ left-back tried to run into the Killie area, would have been softer, but Aberdeen still looked to have a case.

Player ratings

Aberdeen: Roos 7, McCrorie 7, MacDonald 7, Pollock 7, Scales 7, Hayes 7, Ramadani 7, Duncan 8, Clarkson 7, Duk 8 (for Bavidge 86), Miovski 8 (for Watkins 72)

Subs: Gorter, MacKenzie, Markanday, Myslovic, Watkins, Coulson, Richardson, Kennedy, Bavidge

Kilmarnock: Walker 5, Mayo 5, Dorsett 4, Jones 5 (for Robinson 72), Armstrong 6 (for Murray 81), Lyons 5 (for Alebiosu 45), Wright 5, Donnelly 5, Chambers 5, Doidge 6, Watson 5

Subs: Hemming, Power, Taylor, Alston, Murray, Robinson, McInroy, Alebiosu, Wale

Attendance: 16,248

Star man

Duk – the man who got the goals to send Aberdeen third. Special mentions for Miovski and Duncan.