A win against Inverness Caledonian Thistle yesterday was achieved with a late goal, but the time taken to appreciate it was brief, with the stadium announcer clearing his throat just a couple of minutes after full-time to remind supporters that there is a Scottish League Cup tie against Falkirk to come on Wednesday. It was a reminder to the home support, but might also be interpreted as a prompt to the players, that while one job was done, another would be along in a moment.
The pressure on teams increases the higher they climb and Aberdeen have now ascended into third place in the SPFL Premiership table following a clever goal by Scott Vernon 10 minutes from the end. The striker had risen from the bench to score his first of the season - and only his second since March - but had also come in from the cold, the presence of the target man diminished within the Pittodrie ranks now he is being measured against Calvin Zola and Niall McGinn, in particular.
There had been some whispers the club's top scorer was to return from an ankle injury yesterday, but McGinn was not even named as part of the squad. That would come to seem much less significant at full-time, with Vernon's name being boomed out over the PA system.
His goal also brought echoes of the form he showed earlier in his Pittodrie career, controlling a lofted pass from Nicky Low on the turn and whipping a volley low past Dean Brill. The Englishman's exuberant celebrations made it a moment worth savouring, not least since McGinn is expected to be recalled to action in the cup tie. "You could see what it means to Scott, he has had to look at it all from the outside a lot this season," said Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes. "That bit of quality won us the game."
It will come in handy if his side are to fulfil their potential and seize second place this season, a target regarded as a fait accompli during a summer in which McInnes's designs on a return to European competition informed the way he constructed his team. Yesterday's starting XI was built from an earlier draft, though, with teenager Cammy Smith occupying a position in midfield and three more members of the youth system on the bench. With the exception of Celtic -and Hearts, in this campaign at least - all squads could be created equal this summer, although some have proven to be more equal than others. Aberdeen have noticed a sense of imbalance already given that five senior members of the first team have succumbed to injury since the campaign started: Barry Robson, Russell Anderson, Chris Clark and Willo Flood keeping McGinn company on the sidelines. In the striker's stead yesterday stood Zola, a striker big enough to discomfit both Gary Warren and Josh Meekings, and man enough to grapple with a defensive partnership which had only conceded three times before alighting at Pittodrie.
The Inverness pair found the Congolese striker a handful - at times literally - and he showed a rude strength in fending off Warren to lay a pass to Smith after 20 minutes, only for the young midfielder's smart shot to be held by Brill. It was a moment which offered an insight into how McInnes has set up his team in the absence of more robust personnel. Smith was one of four small, nimble players strung across the middle in support of Zola and each sought to break at pace; free kicks outside the penalty area also routinely comprising short, quick passes rather than a punt into the box. That Low should opt to lift a high ball into the area late on was only after Vernon and Josh Magennis had been introduced as stouter targets.
The home side would have anticipated a greater threat from an Inverness side which had made their way to the top of the league - a spot they retain due to a greater goal difference than Celtic - with intelligent attacking play, although yesterday they were made simply to use their heads. Or, more accurately, Gary Warren did, the defender's header after 73 minutes clipping one post and deflecting across the goalline to be cleared by Smith at the other.
That brought a sense of frustration which only grew when Vernon struck to interrupt the league leaders' record of six matches without defeat. "That's our unbeaten run gone and we haven't scored, which is disappointing," said manager Terry Butcher.