THERE was a time, not so long ago, when Aberdeen were having a say at the sharp end of championships.
Now they are scrapping with those teams whose Clydesdale Bank Premier League survival is hanging by a thread.
At the weekend, they succumbed 3-0 at East End Park as Dunfermline Athletic recorded their first home victory of the season and, with it, a stay of execution. Hibernian last night travelled to Pittodrie, desperate themselves to secure the points that would go some way to easing their fears and perhaps allow them to rest some weary legs ahead of the William Hill Scottish Cup final showdown with Hearts.
Aberdeen were obliging, opening the door to their visitors after seven minutes when a Leigh Griffiths cross was turned into his own net by Mark Reynolds. Ten minutes later, Hibs were breathimg easy after Sean O'Hanlon headed home a second .
Aberdeen were much improved in the second half and Scott Vernon pulled a goal back after 53 minutes with a neat finish from close range but, despite a late rally from the hosts, Hibs came away clutching the points.
Aberdeen had made two changes from the side defeated by Dunfermline, with Kari Arnason, the Icelandic internationalist, returning and Jamie Masson given a first start with Chris Clark and Mitch Megginson dropping to the bench. Jamie Langfield, who had earlier in the day signed a new two-year contract, started in goal.
Hibs were without Lewis Stevenson following his red card in the 1-0 defeat to St Mirren on Sunday. However, Garry O'Connor shrugged off a foot injury to start as Pat Fenlon made three changes, with O'Hanlon and Honduran Jorge Claros also drafted in. Captain James McPake missed out due to a groin injury while striker Eoin Doyle had to be content with a place on the bench.
Pat Fenlon, the Hibs manager, claimed he took more satisfaction from last night's hard-fought victory than his side's 2-1 win over the Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden last month.
"Like I have said before, the semi-finals are great to win and we enjoyed it but this is a bigger win for us than the semi final. It's a great three points and it has given us a bit more of a lead but we have a massive game coming up against Dunfermline on Monday. We are not getting carried away as we still have to get over the finishing line."
Fenlon was particularly pleased with the character shown by his players and felt they were worthy of their victory. "It is always nervy when you are leading 2-1 but I thought we did enough to win the game. We could have killed it off as we had a few good chances but we made it edgy for ourselves in the end.
"I have been happy with the last three performances and I thought tonight we added a little bit more to that. We created chances and defended really well when we were under the cosh. There were some great individual performances out there from players."
Aberdeen have now lost six of their last eight matches, including back-to-back defeats against the two sides at the bottom of the league. Craig Brown, their manager, admitted his side's poor defending was the major factor behind the defeat.
"We had the three best chances of the first half but we lost two very bad goals and that gave the Hibs team a very big lift. We are a bit ragged at the back, there is no doubt about that. There are new personnel there and they need to get used to playing together. We had a very good spell of two months when we hardly lost a goal but we have now lost three on Saturday and two tonight to the two bottom teams.
"When there is an expectation on us to win we are not fulfilling it and we have to address that. We seem to do better against the likes of the Old Firm and Dundee United when there is less expectation on us."