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Hibernian 0 Aberdeen 2: McGinn wakes up a traditional snoozefest

THIS fixture in seasons gone by has dulled the senses to such an extent that the NHS were considering using footage of the encounters as a form of anaesthetic.

Niall McGinn celebrates putting Aberdeen in front last night. Picture: SNS
Niall McGinn celebrates putting Aberdeen in front last night. Picture: SNS

Games between Aberdeen and Hibernian have been scrappy, with the odd goal generally enough to win it - illustrated by the fact that only once since 2011, prior to last night, has either side won by more than a single strike.

The reason this meeting ended differently, however, was ultimately down to one man, as Niall McGinn dazzled in yet another glowing performance for the Pittodrie club. The Northern Irishman provided two astonishing finishes to put this match beyond their more than hospitable hosts. He was twice allowed space to beat Ben Williams from range for his 11th and 12th goals of the season, with only a penalty claim from James Collins to make their visit to the capital anything other than completely comfortable as Hibs failed to register even one shot on target.

Aberdeen's commanding performance could not have come at a better time for Derek McInnes, the club's manager, following three straight draws as their pursuit of European football nears its conclusion. The slip up of nearest rivals Motherwell at St Mirren on Saturday presented an opportunity to extend their lead in second place to more than mere goal difference as the season moves towards the split. It was a chance which never looked like being passed up.

Hibs do not have to look too far to appreciate where their dismal run of form could lead them. Just two days after Edinburgh rivals Hearts finally lost their fight to avoid relegation, the club across the city suffered their fourth straight defeat to carry on a winless run which has now been extended to eight games - a record not even Hearts can better. Terry Butcher's team now have just five games to make sure the four-point gap which separates them from a relegation play-off is not wiped out.

It is a run which appeared to be getting the better of them last night. After a bright first 10 minutes where Hibs' high pressure almost caught a tentative Aberdeen defence out, whatever confidence they had left appeared to dissipate as the game ebbed on and the boos rang out from the few who waited long enough to jeer the team off at full-time. Collins' penalty claim aside, where he appeared to be caught by Russell Anderson in the second half, the lack of creativity in attack was impossible to avoid, even for Butcher.

"The confidence is low at the moment," admitted the Hibs manager, whose side have only kept one clean sheet in 2014. "We're in a scrap but I'm up for it, bring it on as far as I'm concerned. It tests your character and your mettle. I've got confidence in the boys and that we'll get the points we need."

While Aberdeen's grip of this game never looked like being loosened, it really should have been over as a contest much sooner than it was. McGinn hit the post five minutes before the interval, his shot rebounding off the right-hand upright from the edge of the area after good work from Adam Rooney and Peter Pawlett. The feat was repeated by Rooney just seconds later, a sumptuous lofted through ball taken on the run by the striker but his strike cannoned off the frame of the goal.

In the end, neither effort was needed as Aberdeen recorded their 19th win of the season, with McGinn at the heart of it. His first after 14 minutes was simple in its build up but technically superb in its execution.

A long punt forward by Mark Reynolds was headed partially cleared by Michael Nelson to Ryan Jack. The youngster rolled the ball to McGinn 25 yards out, where he dragged it on to his left before curling a wonderful finish away from Williams and high into the net.

His second was even better. Rooney rampaged down the right before cutting the ball back to McGinn at the edge of the box; he deftly controlled it with his right foot before adjusting and hitting a dipping half volley with the outside of the same foot, in off the underside of the bar.

"The two goals from Niall were deserving of winning any game," said McInnes, whose side now have a nine-point cushion over fourth-placed Dundee United in the race for Europe. "We will finish where we deserve to finish. We're not obsessed with finishing second, but we want to finish there and get into Europe.

"If we continue this way we will give ourselves a chance."

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