Aberdeen powered to victory over 10-man Kilmarnock to usurp Hibernian in third place in the Scottish Premiership.
Ryan Hedges broke the deadlock with a deflected shot 12 minutes into the second half after a turgid opening 45.
Sam Cosgrove thumped in the second with the final kick of the ball, having been brought down by Brandon Haunstrup, who was dismissed, before lashing home the resultant free-kick from 20 yards.
Kilmarnock created very little and have now failed to score in three matches.
They remain ninth, level on points with St Johnstone and Hamilton Academical beneath them, and one shy of St Mirren and Livingston in a congested bottom half.
Aberdeen, who have not lost at Rugby Park since 2011, overtake Hibs by a point with a game in hand and are behind second-placed Celtic, who have two games in hand. on goal difference.
This game was lively, if bereft of suave, attacking football and light on clear-cut opportunities. Connor McLennan was a pest for Aberdeen, skewing a volley wide in the early skirmishes, while Andy Considine and Tommie Hoban sent headers off target from decent positions.
Too often, Kilmarnock lacked the guile to cleave open their notoriously robust and diligent guests. Chris Burke scurried free and flashed a ball across the face in the dying embers of the first half, but his team-mates’ predatory instincts were blunt. Only Greg Kiltie attacked the back post, and the ball was steered away by Matty Kennedy.
Derek McInnes, who had lost just once to Kilmarnock in 29 matches as Aberdeen manager, withdrew defender Tommie Hoban at the interval to protect him from further damaging a strained hamstring.
Seven minutes into the new half, Aberdeen splintered the hosts’ resistance. Kilmarnock coughed up possession from a throw-in, Hedges swaggered to within a few metres of the box, and his shot cannoned off the left leg of Stuart Findlay and soared beyond Danny Rogers.
Kilmarnock stayed in the fight, but they looked every inch a team toiling to find a ruthless streak. In 18 league matches, they have scored only 18 goals. Callum Waters arced in a couple of glorious deliveries from the left – there were no takers in blue and white.
McLennan could have put the game to bed 20 minutes from time, the winger found in a pocket of unguarded space on the edge of the box after wonderful interplay between Lewis Ferguson and Curtis Main but firing low into traffic.
So too could Cosgrove, when sent galloping through on Rogers by an exquisite Hedges flick. The goalkeeper swiftly flung out his left leg to block Cosgrove; a magnificent save that kept his team’s flickering hopes alive.
The striker, though, would have the final say. Once more, he was put through on goal, only this time Haunstrup hauled him down on the edge of the box. The defender was sent off, and the ball sent fizzing low into the home net from the resultant free-kick.
Even guarding the most slender of leads, Aberdeen are fiendishly difficult to reel back in. They are street-smart and industrious and Kilmarnock could not decipher a formula to deny McInnes’ troops a deserved victory.
Man of the match – Lewis Ferguson
What did we learn?
Kilmarnock looked most threatening when loading up the Aberdeen box from corners, or swinging crosses into the danger area. What they lacked was a poaching striker willing to take chances and exert himself to get between the posts.
After going four games without a win, Aberdeen look back to their resilient best. Kilmarnock scarcely had a sniff. This was a vintage McInnes display – defensively unflustered, hard working and clinical when it mattered.
What they said
Kilmarnock manager Alex Dyer: “We lost 2-0 and it could have been more. The free-kick summed us up – not strong enough, not brave enough in the wall.
“We need to regroup and pick ourselves up in the next four games, because we’ve got four games against teams around us and we have to try and get points on the board to kick-start our season.”
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes: “We’d shown the players a video this week about how Kilmarnock lose goals from shots from the edge of the box by sinking deep into their box. Hedges gets the first chance at the start of the second half, we get a bit of luck with that, and we then have the initiative.
“Kilmarnock were a bit rushed and played into our hands a wee bit. My back three were outstanding, particularly Ash Taylor. We never expect it easy here and it wasn’t easy at all, so good on the players.”
Kilmarnock travel to Dundee United on Wednesday, while Aberdeen face a trip to Motherwell.
- 2McGowanSubstituted forKiltieat 29′minutes
- 17FindlaySubstituted forHaunstrupat 87′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 27TshibolaBooked at 76mins
- 11KabambaSubstituted forWhitehallat 72′minutes
- 3HobanSubstituted forCampbellat 45′minutes
- 9MainSubstituted forCosgroveat 80′minutes
- 18McLennanSubstituted forLoganat 80′minutes
- David Munro
Match ends, Kilmarnock 0, Aberdeen 2.
Second Half ends, Kilmarnock 0, Aberdeen 2.
Goal! Kilmarnock 0, Aberdeen 2. Sam Cosgrove (Aberdeen) from a free kick with a right footed shot to the bottom left corner.
Brandon Haunstrup (Kilmarnock) is shown the red card.
Sam Cosgrove (Aberdeen) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Brandon Haunstrup (Kilmarnock).
Foul by Lewis Ferguson (Aberdeen).
Kirk Broadfoot (Kilmarnock) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Offside, Kilmarnock. Kirk Broadfoot tries a through ball, but Brandon Haunstrup is caught offside.
Corner, Kilmarnock. Conceded by Jonny Hayes.
Corner, Kilmarnock. Conceded by Shay Logan.
Corner, Kilmarnock. Conceded by Jonny Hayes.
Attempt missed. Eamonn Brophy (Kilmarnock) left footed shot from outside the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Kirk Broadfoot.
Substitution, Kilmarnock. Brandon Haunstrup replaces Stuart Findlay because of an injury.
Hand ball by Rory McKenzie (Kilmarnock).
Offside, Aberdeen. Ryan Hedges tries a through ball, but Sam Cosgrove is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Ryan Hedges (Aberdeen) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt saved. Sam Cosgrove (Aberdeen) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Ryan Hedges.
Foul by Sam Cosgrove (Aberdeen).
Alan Power (Kilmarnock) wins a free kick in the defensive half.