DEREK McINNES, the Aberdeen manager, lamented a lack of quality in the final third for his side but was still heartened by the manner in which his players shook off their Scottish Cup disappointment and fought their way to a valuable league point in Inverness.
The Pittodrie side - who lost in a cup semi-final against St Johnstone last Sunday - secured a point to move four ahead of Motherwell in the race to finish second in the SPFL Premiership table. However, both sides will reflect that they could have taken maximum points given the chances created.
McInnes chose to accentuate the positives afterwards, though, and described the display as the epitome of just why he "loves" managing his team. "We were very comfortable and in control for long periods and played some very good stuff," said the Aberdeen manager.
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"We created good opportunities but with someone like [Inverness Caledonian Thistle striker] Billy McKay on the pitch against you, you are never entirely comfortable. The one thing that was doing my head in at times was our reluctance to shoot. We were a bit too precise.
"There are a few who need to show just a little more belief in themselves at times. A lot is said about style of play at Inverness, but we just get on with it and I thought we played some terrific stuff. A lot of people thought we would have tired legs and minds out there, but we showed what we were all about. That's why I love managing these boys; they came out fighting for everything."
In a riveting, ragged spectacle, the often reliable McKay came close to scoring twice from good positions, while another effort from Greg Tansey was thwarted by a marvellous save from Jamie Langfield at close range. Aberdeen, for their part, shook the crossbar with a shot from Niall McGinn in the first half, while the Irishman also fired straight at goalkeeper Dean Brill late on a lively encounter in the Highlands.
With champions Celtic presumed to be winners against Motherwell before a ball is kicked at Fir Park today, both of these sides were aware of taking the chance to close in on a European spot. With that in mind, McInnes recalled former Inverness winger Jonny Hayes for the first time since injuring his collarbone against the Highland side in the League Cup final on March 16.
The home side were without the tigerish influences of both captain Richie Foran and vice-captain Graeme Shinnie, who was serving a ban. Central defender Gary Warren - formerly the captain of Newport County - took the armband for the evening.
The defender urged his side on during a brisk start to the match. The home side created their first opportunity after just seven minutes when Marley Watkins' penetrating burst through Pittodrie defence was stopped by a blatant tug from Russell Anderson. However, referee Bobby Madden played advantage and McKay glided into space to shoot, but Langfield pushed the effort past a post. Anderson was fortunate to receive a telling off and not a yellow card.
The flow of the game remained mostly in the favour of the home side; Carl Tremarco clipping a long ball forward from the left-back position, with McKay rising to flick on with his head. The striker took a return pass from Aaron Doran but fluffed his shot wide of the target.
The initial forays from Aberdeen were meek by comparison. One came from a cross by Shaleum Logan but Hayes' downward header was smothered easily by Brill.
It was only as half-time approached that the visitors threatened with a semblance of menace. An intrepid foray from Peter Pawlett led him though the Inverness defender before a short lay-off to McGinn invited the striker to send a shot against the underside of the bar.
The home side responded on the stroke of half-time, though, as Doran presented McKay with another chance to score. Langfield again was sharp enough to thwart the forward and force another corner.
It was not long before the Aberdeen goalkeeper was under pressure again - as the hosts went within a whisker of opening the scoring after 52 minutes. Doran sent a corner over from the left for Ross Draper to bullet a header towards goal. It skelped the top of the bar, and the Aberdeen support breathed a collective sigh of relief. Langfield's then saved superbly after 68 minutes to keep the scoreline level.
That all pointed to stalemate as the match entered its last 15 minutes, particularly when the Barry Robson fluffed a 25-yard free-kick woefully off target. Then, close to the end, Willo Flood set up McGinn in front of goal, only for Brill to make a save.
A draw likely heartened Motherwell more than either of last night's two combatants. "Aberdeen are a far, far bigger club than us and we punch above our weight every year," said John Hughes, the Inverness manager.
"We more than matched them and it is all credit to the players in the dressing room that we let Aberdeen know that they were in a football match.
"We played great football at times, it was just the cutting edge that was missing. Yet there are a lot of positives we can take from the game."