Aberdeen cast aside the mediocrity which has cloaked their season to inflict a dent in Rangers' push for the Scottish Premier League title at Pittodrie yesterday.
The damage was not as great as it could have been because Barry Ferguson's late penalty rescued a point for the leaders, who could find themselves overtaken today if Celtic defeat Partick Thistle.
Ebbe Skovdahl seemed to be on the brink of recording his first win over Rangers since becoming manager of Aberdeen in 1999, when a rousing second-half comeback produced goals for Leon Mike and Darren Mackie which overtook the lead provided by Arthur Numan midway through the first half. Mike admitted later that it was a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance from Aberdeen.
"Rangers passed us to death in the first half but after the interval we went at them and they couldn't handle us. We can compete with any team if we show more belief," he said.
Such bravado was markedly absent in the first 45 minutes as Aberdeen produced a spineless show in which they failed to have a shot on goal. The meekness was in contrast to the hostility from the stands. This fixture had always been volatile, but a riot when Rangers visited last season ensured that the visiting support was limited to 2,400 tickets in a strictly cordoned-off zone.
Poor David Preece was restored in Aberdeen's goal for his first game since letting in seven to Celtic a fortnight ago. However, his early saves from Michael Mols and Russell Latapy helped to restore the goalkeeper's confidence.
That comfort zone, however, was torn apart after 24 minutes when Numan gave Rangers a predictable lead. The full-back played a one-two with his Dutch international colleague Ronald de Boer before stretching to hit a left-foot shot from the edge of the box beyond Preece's reach.
That should have been the cue for Rangers to impose their will but the closest they came was when Preece made a swift dash off the line to deny Mols.
The transformation in Aberdeen after half-time, however, was remarkable and they soon earned their reward. Derek Young showed sublime control with his thigh to supply his brother Darren, whose shot was pushed over the bar by Stefan Klos. When Eric Deloumeaux sent in the corner, Mike rose at the back post and squeezed a downward header past the keeper to end a run of 423 minutes without a league goal.
Pittodrie came alive and Aberdeen responded to the passion of their fans. Mackie gave them the lead in the 74th minute, finishing a goal that he began. The forward pounced after Mike had been tackled and clipped a clever reverse pass to Kevin Rutkiewicz on the right for the full-back to reach the by-line. He floated a perfect cut-back which Mackie met with his head to plant the ball past Klos.
The joy lasted only four minutes. Fernando Ricksen was brought down by Philip McGuire and Ferguson coolly beat Preece from the spot.
Mike 56, Mackie 74
Numan 24, Ferguson Pen 78
Half-time 0-1 Attendance: 14,915
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