This was the refreshing, high-tempo, value-for-money kind of game these sides used to serve-up when they were managed by Sir Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean, adversaries who invariably had their teams performing at their best.

Paul Paton's scintillating strike as some fans were still taking their seats set the tone for an entertaining and often bruising 90 minutes.

Niall McGinn, whose scoring touch had deserted him after 21 strikes last season, grabbed a well-deserved equaliser, with Aberdeen manager, Derek McInnes, rightly claiming the Dons deserved more than a draw.

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Motherwell's defeat by Kilmarnock may have left Dundee United with second place in the Scottish Premiership in their sights as they left Pittodrie, but Aberdeen are favourites to end the campaign as runners-up.

"I thought United deserved to go in front," said Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager. "We were a bit unsure of ourselves and while we didn't start as well as we normally do, our response was good and we were relentless in getting the equaliser. From then on we were the better team and we dominated proceedings. We looked more likely to win than they did.

"I thought Barry Robson was pivotal for us and epitomised everything we've been this season. He took full responsibility in getting on the ball - he was aggressive and showed quality and his whole demeanour and body language was important, but he was in good company with his team-mates."

United were forced to make changes because of the suspensions of Andrew Robertson and Nadir Ciftci, two influential performers for the Tangerines this season.

But concern over their absence was dispelled within the opening five minutes of this pulsating game when Russell Anderson's clearance of Brian Graham's low ball across the area landed at the feet of Paton, whose blistering strike from 22 yards proved unstoppable.

The early boost for the visitors sparked a series of attacks with Dons keeper Jamie Langfield's acrobatic diving save from John Rankin's sizzling 30-yard strike rescuing his side. United's exploitation of a nervous Aberdeen defence was palpable and it took the home side a little time to find their rhythm.

Then, but for the alertness of Radoslaw Ciernzniak in producing a reflex save from Robson's angular shot from 10 yards, Aberdeen would have equalised. The Dons found their rhythm and their grit after that effort and pummelled the Tangerines' defence but it remained resolute in dealing with some difficult moments.

Cierzniak showcased his agility in saving a McGinn header, though he knew little of another effort from the former Celtic player on 37 minutes: the visitors wondered how they managed to escape unscathed when his touch from Adam Rooney's head-down hit the post then ran along the line before being cleared.

Graham and Gary Mackay-Steven proved tricky opponents for the home defence and the tall striker's header at the back post just before the break would have sent him and his team-mates into the changing room happy were it not been for the alertness of Langfield.

Six minutes into the second half Aberdeen equalised as Robson, who had seen a ferocious volley saved by Cierzniak seconds earlier, sent a tantalising ball into the area for McGinn to attack. His header flashed into the net for his first goal in 17 games, his 10th of the season.

The game continued to be a true value-for-money encounter for the rest of the 90 minutes.The goalkeepers were less busy - though Cierzniak was called to make a superb save from Rooney two minutes from the end - but there was entertainment aplenty.

Jackie McNamara, the United manager, considered it a fair result as he bemoaned his side's failure to score a second goal when they were on top in the opening stages of the game.

"They put us under a lot of pressure in the second half," he said, "and were better as we were forced too deep at times.

"It was a really entertaining match but we switched off at a thrown-in followed by a free cross into the box to bring their goal."