Aberdeen produced a performance of real character this afternoon in the Highlands to claim a very important three points.
It was an enthralling game from start to finish.
The Dons started the game very strongly and should have been in front before the home side had a strong penalty claim turned down. Then shortly after that Mark Reynolds was adjudged to have fouled Schalk and as he was the last man a red card was produced. To make matters worse from the resulting free kick McShane put the ball under the wall and into the net.
The Aberdeen players deserve enormous praise for what happened next.
Adam Rooney won a penalty and stepped forward to score goal number 15 of the season. Minutes later, after a very well worked move and a great cross from Hayes, Shay Logan looped the ball into the corner of the net and suddenly Aberdeen were ahead. That lead at half time should have been greater as both Rooney and Hayes missed good chances. Just after the break though the Dons did get a third with Shinnie finding his fellow full back Logan in the area after a clever flick from Rooney.
Aberdeen then looked comfortable; that was until McShane produced an excellent finish to beat Brown and set up a grandstand finish. It was a nervous last ten minutes or so but the Dons ten men held out for a thoroughly deserved victory.
This was a very good team performance but a special mention must go to Scott Brown who made a number of very good saves on his return to the side. Also youngster Craig Storie, who made his first start of the season, reproduced the form he has been showing in the development league recently.
After the disappointment of last week's Scottish Cup exit at Tynecastle Derek McInnes made three changes to the Aberdeen starting line-up for the match against Ross County in Dingwall. After Danny Ward's loan spell being ended early at the request of Liverpool, Scott Brown was handed a first start of the season. New loan signing Adam Collin took a place on the bench.
Craig Storie was also handed his first start of the season as a replacement for Willo Flood who picked up an injury last week in the capital. The third and final change gave a return to the starting line-up for David Goodwillie with Andrew Considine dropping to the bench. The changes came not only in personnel as Shinnie moved back to left-back next to Taylor, Reynolds and Logan. Kenny McLean also dropped to a deeper midfield position to play alongside Storie with McGinn, Hayes and Rooney in more advanced positions in support of Goodwillie.
Pre-match conditions were what you would expect for Dingwall in January but despite some sub-zero temperatures the match was never in doubt. However the pitch in certain areas was extremely tricky and also the low winter sun made life difficult for the County players in the first half.
The Dons started the match very sharply and had their first sight of goal after sixty seconds when Adam Rooney won the ball inside the Ross County half and found Hayes. The winger had Shinnie on the overlap but opted to shoot and a deflection forced Fox to turn the ball over for a corner.
In the 4th minute Hayes knocked a ball down for McGinn just inside the opposition half. Niall took his time and slipped the ball through for Rooney, the striker had made a great run but his shot was blocked and went behind for a corner.
McGinn had a strike of his own from outside the area but Fox got down well to save before The Dons won their fourth corner of the match inside the first six minutes. McGinn was getting time and space in front between the midfield and defence and it wasn't long before he found another opening. This time a perfectly weighted through ball found Logan and his clipped cross asked too much of Rooney.
After nine minutes there was another corner for Aberdeen but this time it was Goodwillie who had his shot blocked. It was a blistering start from The Dons but frustratingly the score remained level.
Ross County had their first sight of goal in the 13th minute after they broke up Aberdeen possession and countered quickly but Taylor showed good recovery pace to challenge Schalk before the striker could pull the trigger inside the box.
The home side went route one to create their next opportunity when Graham got up to flick a long ball on for Gardyne to pick out Foster at the back post. The former Don only had Brown to beat but the keeper stood up really well and turned it over the bar. Aberdeen looked to spring a counter from the Ross County corner but after good work from Hayes, McGinn was unable to pick out his man. And the attack broke down.
Ross County were enjoying better chances now and had a strong penalty shout turned down when McShane went down in the box under a challenge from Taylor, play moved on and Brown saved the strike from Schalk. On first viewing it looked like Jim McIntyre and his side had a good case for a penalty.
In the 26th minute, disaster for the Dons as they went down to ten men.
Ross County won a succession of balls in the Aberdeen half before a hopeful ball was looped over the top for Schalk. The striker was through on goal and went down under a challenge from Reynolds just outside the area. Crawford Allan whistled for a foul and judged that Reynolds was the last man which resulted in a straight red card. The contact looked minimal.
To make matters worse County took the lead from the free-kick when McShane cleverly hit his free-kick low under the wall into the bottom corner of the net. Due to the dismissal The Dons chose to shuffle the pack with Considine replacing Goodwillie.
It would have been easy for the heads to drop but The Dons responded brilliantly.
In the 32nd minute a penalty was awarded to Aberdeen when Rooney was pulled back by Robertson. The striker used all of his experience to draw the foul and stepped up to take the penalty as Robertson picked up a booking. Rooney made no mistake with the spot-kick to put The Dons back on level terms.
Just a couple of minutes later the ten men took an unlikely lead when Hayes whipped in an inviting cross which Logan turned in at the back post under pressure from the County defence. The ball looped up and Fox was unable to keep it out. Defender Jamie Reckord might have got the final touch but Shay was certainly claiming the goal!
The sending off seemed to have lifted Aberdeen to recreate the form they showed during the opening ten minutes.
The lead was almost extended when Rooney bulleted a header past the post from a corner, it was a narrow miss and the home side were rattled. The hosts were making mistakes in possession under some great Aberdeen pressure and it was Hayes who made an opportunity for himself soon after. The winger raced towards the Ross County goal and turned the defender inside out before firing over the bar from inside the area, a great chance.
The game was racing from end to end and Scott Brown had to be on his toes to complete a quite superb double save from Graham and Schalk. Brown did well to save Graham's header before reacting quickly to save the rebound.
Up the other end a quick free-kick presented an opportunity for Rooney, the striker took a touch before striking the ball towards goal. Fox got something on the strike but had to be sharp to knock the ball off the line at the second attempt. It was agonisingly close to being another goal for The Dons.
There was to be another chance as the first half entered added time. Schalk found himself through on goal once again but instead of taking on the shot he opted to turn the ball back for a Ross County player who wasn't there. It was a let off for The Dons who would have another chance of their own before the half was over. Hayes was the creator once again as he raced into the County half and past Robertson at ease. Hayes had time to pick out McGinn or take the shot on his own but unfortunately he couldn't make the right contact and sliced the ball over the bar.
It had been an end to end half to say the least and it was a mystery how there wasn't more names on the scoresheet. At half-time The Dons held a narrow lead thanks to a magnificent reaction from the ten men.
At half-time Ross County made two changes with Irvine and De Vita replacing Murdoch and Fraser.
After 50 minutes Shinnie was harshly judged to have fouled Gardyne, despite there being no contact, which gave the home side a chance to deliver a free-kick from 30 yards. The free-kick bounced all the way through to the back post where Irvine was waiting. The midfielder poked the ball towards goal but Brown got across to turn the ball away, good goalkeeping to keep The Dons in front.
McLean was having a great afternoon in the middle of the park and almost had an assist when he played Logan in. The full back had made a great run and raced towards goal before trying to clip the ball over the keeper. The shot was turned past the post.
Moment later Aberdeen had another corner which was delivered by Hayes. Rooney got up to head the ball unchallenged but his header ended up past inches the post. It was another great chance as the home side did not have a man on the near post. The Dons didn't seem to be hindered by the numerical disadvantage when it came to creating chances.
With the number of forward thinking players on the park it seemed inevitable that another goal would come. As the chances kept getting passed up the frustration was clear to see in The Dons technical area.
Thankfully when the goal did come it was scored by a player in a red shirt. Storie played it to Shinnie who whipped in another great cross from the left which was cleverly flicked on by Rooney at the near post and he found Logan who was there to guide the ball into the back of the net for his second of the match in the 60th minute. It was great to see Logan's attacking ambition rewarded when it would perhaps have been easier to sit back and defend.
The goal took the sting out of the game and Aberdeen looked comfortable at this point.
The only moment of concern was when Considine had to be quick to snub out an attack when an uncharacteristically slack pass from McLean left two players bearing down on him. Considine bided his time and made a perfect challenge. Andy had a very good when he came on.
With twenty minutes remaining the home side made their final change when Morrison replaced Schalk. As the match entered the final twenty minutes Rooney did well to make something of a long ball from Taylor, when the ball fell to Hayes at the edge of the area you fancied him to hit the target but he was denied by a committed block from Andrew Davies.
The hosts had a free-kick 25 yards from goal after a foul from McLean which earned the midfielder a harsh booking. McShane tried to pick out the back post once again but Considine was there to intercept and turn it behind for a corner. The ball was partially cleared to McShane who put in a perfect cross which was bulleted over the bar by Irvine.
The home side still posed a physical threat with Graham up front, he managed to hold the ball up and play in fellow Morrison inside the area but the youngster's low strike trickled past the post. The natural thing to do might have been to drop deep but The Dons made a noticeable effort to push up the park when possible.
Just when a Ross County goal was starting to look unlikely McShane sidestepped a challenge from Hayes and found the back of the net from 25 yards in the 82nd minute. It was a great strike which left Brown with no chance and set up what looked like being a nervy final ten minutes for The Dons.
With just over five minutes of normal time remaining Foster picked out Graham in the area. The striker brought the ball down well but fired his half volley over the bar.
Derek McInnes called on experience as he replaced Rooney with Robson in an attempt to tighten up in front of defence. That substitution was subsequently followed by McGinn being replaced by Pawlett as The Dons looked to disrupt the home side's momentum and add some fresh legs.
The Dons high line had dropped considerably deeper as you see so often when a team is trying to defend a lead late on. A long ball was pumped up towards Graham and he was able to knock it down for Irvine on the edge of the area, the midfielder's shot was saved by Brown.
Three minutes of time were added on as The Dons looked to hold on to a precious three points. The 924 travelling supporters attempted to sing the team over the line with a rendition of 'The Northern Lights' at a time when it was backs to the wall stuff. As the match entered the final minute of added time the home side had a corner which was headed clear by Storie. The youngster had produced a neat and tidy performance and was always there to put himself in to challenges.
It wasn't over yet though. Graham got up to head a cross into the six yard box but Robson was in the right place to turn the ball behind, a vital interception. The corner passed without incident and the final whistle signalled that a very well earned three points would be returning to Pittodrie.
The ten men received a standing ovation from the Red Army for delivering a victory which looked so unlikely after half an hour.