In knockout tournaments, being lucky as opposed to good is rather useful.
There is no question Aberdeen were the latter in earning Scottish Cup quarter-final salvation they barely deserved, courtesy of Rory McArdle's last-minute goal at St Mirren Park. In illustrating how football can change in the blink of an eye, suddenly Aberdeen are the favourites to progress to the last four as they head into a replay on Wednesday night.
A year ago, Danny Lennon was guiding Cowdenbeath towards an ultimately successful promotion push from Scotland's Second Division. He was within seconds of taking St Mirren to a semi-final here, with wastefulness in front of goal as much to blame for the hosts' failure to see out victory as poor defending in the dying moments.
Michael Higdon and Craig Dargo were clean through on goal on separate occasions with St Mirren 1-0 ahead. Higdon tripped over the ball and Dargo took a poor enough touch to allow the Aberdeen goalkeeper Jamie Langfield to intervene; those basic errors came back to haunt the hosts as McArdle popped up with an unlikely equaliser.
St Mirren have displayed a damaging trait of conceding late goals throughout this campaign. "I am very, very disappointed," said Lennon. "With the opportunities that we had, the game should have been put beyond doubt."
Craig Brown has steadied matters at Aberdeen but performances such as this prove what work lies ahead for the veteran manager. Too many of Aberdeen's players lack the talent to return the club to where their support demand at the upper echelons of the Scottish game. A summer squad overhaul in the north-east is inevitable, even if the manager praised Aberdeen's mentality.
"I want to compliment the players on competing right to the end because all seemed to be lost," said Brown. "But I can't be particularly proud of the performance. The way we are playing, we won't win the cup but we can improve."
There is a theory that the Scottish season should revert to the summer, thereby starting in March. On this evidence, such a notion is fatally flawed with snow and sleet falling in Paisley.
The conditions were partly an excuse, then, for a dismal opening half in which the total of Aberdeen's attacking efforts was a Scott Vernon header which was blocked at the back post. St Mirren offered little more, a David van Zanten cross which narrowly evaded the home attackers the only threat provided.
The second half more closely resembled a cup tie, with substitutions meaningfully shaping the flow of the game. Langfield saved smartly from the St Mirren replacements Kenny McLean and Higdon in the space of a few seconds before Higdon curled wide from 20 yards.
Brown's decision to remove Steven Smith from the Aberdeen defence was as notable as the changes implemented by Lennon. With the full-back absent, St Mirren profited down their right flank.
Dargo's cross found Higdon for the opening goal, with the striker's pass across goal falling perfectly for Paul McGowan. The Celtic loanee tapped home from close range
Higdon or Dargo should have settled the tie but their failure to do so left an opportunity which Aberdeen gleefully took. McGowan was adjudged to have fouled Chris Maguire with a Paul Hartley free-kick not adequately defended by St Mirren. McArdle capitalised to keep alive Aberdeen's hopes of a second Hampden appearance this season.
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