Aberdeen were 2-1 victors over a Manchester United XI in a benefit match for club legend Neil Simpson.
Simpson, a key figure in Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1983 Cup Winners’ Cup side, played 310 times for Aberdeen between 1980 and 1990, and continues his association with the club in the role of youth coach.
Indeed, such was the success that the midfielder enjoyed during the 1980s, only five clubs in Scottish football can better his own personal title haul. Simpson picked up two league titles, three Scottish Cups, a Scottish League cup, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the European Super Cup, scoring in the latter.
Perhaps most importantly, it was Neil Simpson who scored the equaliser against the all-conquering Bayern Munich in the quarter-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup; the match dubbed the “greatest game Pittodrie has ever seen”. Aberdeen would go on to record a 3-2 victory.
Fittingly, it was his former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who brought Manchester United north for the benefit match. United lined up with a relatively strong starting side, with David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Federico Macheda and Anderson amongst the team.
Aberdeen included Mark Reynolds beside Russell Anderson at centre-back, with Gary Naysmith and Isaac Osbourne at full-back. Robert Milsom, Chris Clark and Neil Simpson made up the midfield, with the latter ceremonially replaced by Stephen Hughes straight after kick-off. Johnny Hayes and Mitchel Megginson were on either wing, with Michael Paton the lone striker.
Depending on your frame of reference, Pittodrie appeared to be either draped in Transylvanian mystery, or straight out of a late 1970s Meat Loaf video, such was the poor visibility and foggy conditions. Yet both sides coped with minimal fuss.
Predictably, Manchester United had most of the ball in the opening exchanges. While we have often pondered whether Paul Scholes could turn it on in a fog-hit SPL ground on a Tuesday night, we need wonder no longer. The veteran midfielder was at the heart of everything, switching play to both of the flanks and showing the kind of range most militaries would be proud of. Bebe was the first to test Jamie Langfield, with the Aberdeen goalkeeper beating away the Brazilian’s driven shot.
While the off-the-ball runs of Macheda were causing some headaches for the Aberdeen defence, it was the vision of Ryan Giggs which almost opened the scoring. Collecting the ball 25 yards from goal, there seemed little danger until Giggs placed the ball onto the join of crossbar and post. Moments later, Nick Powell could only head over when Langfield clawed Macheda’s chip out from under the bar.
Still, Manchester United weren’t getting things all their own way. The directness of Johnny Hayes was causing left-back, Tyler Blackett some consternation. Twice Hayes beat his man only to find no takers for his delivery.
While United’s possession was controlled and measured, it was Aberdeen that took the lead against the run of play. Paul Scholes attempted to be a little too cute in his own box, trying dribble the ball out of defence, only to run into a determined Johnny Hayes, who nicked the ball off his toe. The Irishman then placed the ball in De Gea’s left hand corner to give the hosts a half-time lead.
There were changes for both teams ahead of the second half, with United legends Clayton Blackmore and Dwight Yorke replacing Blackett and Macheda, and youngsters Sam Johnstone and Adnan Junuzaj coming on for De Gea and Paul Scholes. Aberdeen introduced Andrew Considine for Russell Anderson, Scott Vernon for Johnny Hayes and Gavin Rae for Stephen Hughes.
While Blackmore’s crossing and ability to pick a pass certainly hadn’t diminished with age, it was Aberdeen who did much of the pressing in the early stages of the second period. Michael Paton’s fierce shot from distance was only just tipped over by Johnstone, while Mitch Megginson found enough space to slide a shot a few yards wide of the goalkeeper’s left post.
Perhaps the second biggest ovation of the night arrived on the hour, when Sir Alex Ferguson introduced Darren Fletcher into proceedings. The Scotland midfielder has been battling illness for over a year, and his presence will have been of great comfort to his managers at club and country. There appeared no ill effects from the Scotland captain, who helped stabilise United’s midfield. Quinton Fortune was also brought on at left-back.
However, Aberdeen doubled their lead with 20 minutes to go when Johnstone could only flap at a Rob Milsom cross, allowing Considine to push the ball to Joseph Shaughnessy – on for Isaac Osbourne – who stabbed the ball into the net from a couple of yards.
Aberdeen then introduced their own group of reinforcements, with Gothenburg great Doug Rougvie taking over at left back. Doug Bell and Stevie Tosh were also brought on, with Brian Irvine taking over from Considine in the centre of defence.
Yorke thought he had scored when he forced Bebe’s shot over the line, only to discover that his presence actually cost United the goal as he was standing in an offside position.
Fletcher was beginning to make his own influence felt, and he routinely appeared on the edge of the Aberdeen penalty area to recycle possession for Manchester United. Their patience paid off with five minutes to go, when Anderson and Yorke linked up, leaving the former to nonchalantly chip the ball over the advancing Langfield.
Despite some late pressure, there was no sign of any “Fergie time”, and Aberdeen secured victory, with both teams applauding “man of the match” Neil Simpson’s contribution; a sentiment echoed by the 21,000 strong crowd.