Aberdeen vs Rangers. Scottish Premiership.
Match report as Scott Arfield's late double secures victory for Rangers at Aberdeen; Fashion Sakala gave Rangers an early lead; a stunning free-kick drew the hosts level at the break; Leighton Clarkson fired home for Aberdeen in the 53rd minute
Tuesday 27 December 2022 16:57, UK
Scott Arfield's stoppage-time double saw Rangers snatch a dramatic 3-2 win at Aberdeen to keep their faint title hopes alive.
Jim Goodwin's men were on the verge of beating the Ibrox side in the league for the first time since 2016 until substitute Arfield struck twice in added time.
The midfielder scored in the 95th and 97th minutes to complete a remarkable turnaround and leave Aberdeen stunned.
Earlier, a stunning free-kick from Luis 'Duk' Lopes had cancelled out Fashion Sakala's opener before Leighton Clarkson's powerful strike gave the Dons the lead.
Arfield's late intervention has cut Rangers' gap on Celtic to six points ahead of their game against Livingston on Wednesday, while Aberdeen are 14 points behind the Ibrox side in third.
Aberdeen boss Jim Goodwin came in for widespread criticism following his side's defensive display in the 1-0 home defeat by Celtic on Saturday and his side were keen to make amends, making early inroads towards the Rangers box.
The visitors, though, were confident and purposeful in possession and their opener came after a one-two between former Aberdeen midfielder Ryan Jack and Alfredo Morelos.
When the Colombia striker cut the ball back to Sakala, his first unconvincing attempt from 12 yards was blocked by Dons skipper Anthony Stewart but his second found the net.
Aberdeen wobbled and moments later Ibrox midfielder Malik Tillman set up Morelos inside the box but his shot was saved by Dons keeper Kelle Roos.
The home side stormed back and Richardson's cross from the right came off James Tavernier and hit the post before Duk's shot was deflected for a corner.
However, Aberdeen were buoyed and Duk's cross from the left minutes later found Ylber Ramadani but the midfielder missed the target from 16 yards.
Then came the equaliser, after Gers defender James Sands was booked by referee Willie Collum for a foul on Aberdeen striker Bojan Miovski 20 yards from goal. Duk curled the free-kick over the wall and past the flailing McGregor, who looked as if he could have done better.
Aberdeen came out for the second half fired up and soon went ahead. Scales' cross into the box was cleared by Sands but only to Clarkson, who sent a dipping shot from distance over McGregor and into the corner of the net.
Beale brought Ben Davies, Scott Wright, Arfield and John Lundstram on for Sakala, Sands, Jack and Glen Kamara in an attempt to turn the game back in Rangers' favour.
However, the Govan men looked disjointed and increasingly desperate.
In the 76th minute Arfield's volley from 16 yards was parried by Roos before defender Ross McCrorie cleared the loose ball to safety.
Aberdeen kept up their work rate as Rangers dominated the latter stages but the pressure paid off when Roos fumbled a 25-yard drive from Kent, allowing Arfield to fire in from close range - before the Gers midfielder bundled in a third moments later from six yards to complete a remarkable turnaround.
Rangers manager Michael Beale told Sky Sports his new side still have a lot of work to do:
"Delighted with the result. I'd say 10/10 for character, 5/10 for performance.
"We looked really anxious and weren't playing well at all [after we went behind].
"I made four changes and Arfield came up trumps. I'm delighted for him because it's harsh on Scotty not to have started in either of the two games. But that is what Scotty does, he gambles and he gets into the box.
"I see a group that isn't the most confident, hopefully the last two wins will give them that against third and fourth in the league. Away here is a difficult game, and I felt they stuck together and got over the line.
"We've got some work to do, that is clear for everyone to see".
Scott Arfield spoke to Sky Sports after his dramatic late double:
"Big mentality week, two tough away fixtures. It was important we started on the right note so to get the three points was huge.
"He (Beale) knows the ability we've got, maybe we have come off it mentality wise.
"If you win the game in the first five minutes or if you win it in the last five minutes, it's still the same three points."
Aberdeen manager Jim Goodwin told Sky Sports it will take a while to get over that late defeat:
"I'm gutted. It is pretty hard to put into words what just happened. The boys were excellent for the majority of the game. I thought we deserved not only to take something from the game but deserved to win the game.
"Two late goals like that is incredible. I've never experienced anything like that.
"It was extremely frustrating. It was a mistake for the equaliser but in fairness the goalkeeper has been immense, not just tonight but throughout the course of the season. He was very unlucky, the ball takes a bounce just in front of him and he can't make it stick.
"At 2-2 we should see the game [out]. We go into every game trying to win it. I thought we played with real intensity, there was a real fight there tonight. We scored a couple of cracking goals. We had to make changes because the boys were running out of energy. They were dead on their feet.
"It will take a while to get over this one."
Kris Boyd voiced his concern that "Rangers never seem to be in control of a game of football".
"He's not daft, Michael Beale. He knows there's a lot of work, he's said it, we've touched on it," said Boyd.
"They're waiting for individuals to do something - that spark. And you look at the top end of this pitch right now, and I don't want to go on about it because I'm sick to the back teeth of talking about him, he needs to do more, Morelos, there's no doubt about it.
"I'm looking at Friday night, and you're thinking could Scott Arfield potentially take that role as a false nine?
"It's got to be a lot better at the top of the pitch for Rangers."
Rangers return to action on Friday at Ross County, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 7.30pm.
Aberdeen's next match is away to St Mirren on Saturday; kick-off 12.30pm.