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Kilmarnock 0 Aberdeen 2: New pitch not enough to fix leaky defence or make visitors slip up

THERE are signs of a little more cohesion in their play and the prospective signing of Michael Ngoo, the former Hearts striker who watched this encounter from the Main Stand as negotiations continue, would add another welcome option in a frontline devoid of Kris Boyd.

Peter Pawlett receives the ball from Jonny Hayes in a pocket of space and drives a powerful effort off the underside of the bar and past Craig Samson in the Kilmarnock goal. Picture: SNS
Peter Pawlett receives the ball from Jonny Hayes in a pocket of space and drives a powerful effort off the underside of the bar and past Craig Samson in the Kilmarnock goal. Picture: SNS

However, for all the possession enjoyed by Kilmarnock during the course of this encounter, painful old problems proved their undoing.

Were it not for Boyd's 22 goals last term, the Rugby Park side would have been in serious trouble. The battle for survival was desperate enough and that was largely down to the side's inability to keep the ball out of the net.

Aberdeen did not put them under any sustained pressure last night. The visitors were, if anything, a slight disappointment. Yet, the hosts were caught on the break for Peter Pawlett's opening goal at the end of the first half, gifted Ryan Jack too much space inside the area for the second and were extremely fortunate not to lose a third near the end when Nicky Low, the visiting substitute, placed an effort straight at Craig Samson when clean through.

Tope Obadeyi did fairly well up front beside Josh Magennis. Ngoo, available on a free transfer after being released by Liverpool, would give them something different again.

None of the above looks like replicating the firepower Boyd provided, though. "We maybe lacked a cutting edge," said Allan Johnston, the manager. "We are hoping to get that [deal for Ngoo] sorted."

Meanwhile, his side will need to be far more focused in defence. The nature of the goals they conceded suggests not everything at Rugby Park is changing for the better in the wake of a spell which has brought freshness to the boardroom, the dressing-room and elsewhere.

This, of course, was the first public sighting of the home side's new artificial surface, installed at an estimated cost of £500,000. There are parts of Ayrshire in which people still rush out of the house to marvel at the motorcar, particularly the shiny ones, but it takes something special to entice the good citizens of Kilmarnock away from the backgammon board. The crowd at Rugby Park was really no better or worse than usual with 887 away fans contributing to a turnout of 5079.

Watching the game unfold on the 3G FieldTurf, to give it its technical name, was quite fascinating all the same. The quality of these plastic pitches is improving all the time with the movement of the ball across them becoming more akin to grass.

They make perfect sense in an environment in which every penny is a prisoner thanks to their ability to raise revenue and save on training facilities.

"Rugby Park was a brilliant pitch, but the club have reasons for installing the new one," said Derek McInnes, who seemed happy enough with his side's performance at the end. "You would always prefer grass. It looks a decent surface, but they just need to make sure they keep it wet."

Of course, traditional attitudes remain along with a certain caution. There are concerns about ageing limbs being subjected to the surface and that is almost certainly why Barry Robson started on the bench for the visitors and Russell Anderson did not feature at all.

Aberdeen could certainly have benefited from their presence in the early stages. There was a distinct lack of creativity on show from Aberdeen from middle to front while the man filling in for Anderson in central defence, Ash Taylor, was almost caught napping just 12 minutes in.

A long kick-out from Craig Samson took the most almighty bounce deep in Aberdeen territory and Magennis, up against his former club, shrugged off Taylor with alarming ease.

His initial effort was strong and true, but far too close to Jamie Langfield, who parried it straight back into his path. Reacting quickly, Magennis released a better-directed effort to the goalkeeper's right, but Langfield produced an impressive block to preserve parity between the sides.

It took Aberdeen a good 25 minutes to threaten properly. Niall McGinn, so often a positive force within their ranks, ghosted clear of Chris Johnston around 25 yards out on the right of the area and released an angled shot that cannoned off the crossbar.

That one moment did not exactly turn the game on its head, but there were, at least, another couple of chances before the interval with Obadeyi heading over from a Johnston cross before the visitors took the lead in the closing minute of the opening 45. Jamie Hamill, making his second debut in the blue-and-white after returning to Rugby Park in the summer, lost possession in midfield with the hosts pushing forward and they simply found themselves outnumbered on the counter-attack and unable to recover.

The killer moment came when Jonny Hayes, smart and aware despite having made a searching run into opposition territory, rolled the ball out to Pawlett on the left of the penalty area. He took a nice touch to get it under control and saw his powerful effort drive off the underside of the crossbar and land in the net with Samson flailing.

The goal had been rather harsh on the hosts and they opened the second period in the ascendancy with Johnston, Craig Slater and Obadeyi all sending shots over the bar from positions you might just have expected them to trouble the keeper from.

Aberdeen created nothing of note until 19 minutes from time, which is when they scored their second.

McGinn picked up the ball wide on the right and delivered the most wicked of crosses into the heart of the danger area. Jack had timed his run perfectly to beat Samson with his head from a matter of yards.

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