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Jimmy Nicholl rues 'disappointing' penalty call as Rangers are held by dogged Dons

Aberdeen 1-1 Rangers

By Andy Newport

Jimmy Nicholl criticised referee Steven McLean for the penalty decision that almost wrecked Rangers' bid for second spot in the Ladbrokes Premiership.

The official handed Aberdeen a 14th-minute spot-kick after his Pittodrie namesake Kenny McLean hit the deck under pressure from Alfredo Morelos.

But television replays appeared to showed the Colombian frontman got a touch to the ball.

The Dons midfielder tucked home his penalty but Ross McCrorie rescued a vital point for the Ibrox team to send the three-team battle for the runners-up slot to the final day of the season.

However, caretaker boss Nicholl was furious with referee McLean for putting his side's chances at risk.

The Northern Ireland legend - who admitted his side's first-half display went off the rails after the penalty award - said: "We can't afford (the referee's decision). If it hadn't happened we would've continued doing what we had been doing during the first 15 minutes you would like to think.

"Whatever threat they had we were dealing with as best we could.

"It wasn't a penalty and it's disappointing the referee gave it, especially if there's a doubt. If there's no doubt I'd be standing there saying: 'What are you doing Alfredo? For goodness sake! You've cost us the game!' I'd understand if it was a blatant, stupid thing to do in the box.

"But it wasn't obvious. It isn't August with three games gone. It is the end of the season with two games to go and those were three points I thought we deserved and never got."

Gers remain a point behind Derek McInnes' men but Hibernian can draw level with the Light Blues if they beat Hearts tonight, meaning it will be all to play for when the Reds go to Celtic Park and the Ibrox side to Easter Road on Sunday's final day of the season.

But as well as being unhappy with McLean, Nicholl was frustrated his men allowed themselves to be affected by the referee's call.

"They had to get on with it, but they didn't," he said.

"They got frustrated with the decision and lost their way. That was the annoying thing. We had to get them in at half-time and get the football head back on again.

"If you get frustrated with refereeing decisions, you lose concentration and you don't do your jobs properly. They did that and it was a great second 45 minutes.

"It was a good goal from Ross McCrorie, a determined young player who went with conviction."

Dons boss McInnes hailed his side for their first-half showing.

"I am absolutely delighted with the performance of my team tonight, especially in the first half," he said. "We knocked Rangers out of their stride, played with thought, played with energy.

"However, it's hard for me to say Rangers didn't deserve to win their point in the end.

"We'll take the point because it might just be a very important point.

"We're ahead of the other two and they still have their points to earn."

Elsewhere, Ross County's survival hopes remain hanging by a thread after a 1-0 loss at home to Dundee. Results across Premiership - with Partick Thistle losing to Motherwell - mean the Staggies remain two points away from a play-off spot and cannot escape the bottom two.

Simon Murray grabbed the decisive goal at the Global Energy Stadium with just his third for Dundee and first since February, which means the visitors have confirmed their status in the top flight beyond all doubt.

The defeat means County must beat St Johnstone on Saturday and hope Thistle fail to win if they are to avoid automatic relegation.

The hosts flew out of the traps and were almost ahead after just 90 seconds, only for Billy McKay to be flagged for offside after stabbing in a free-kick at the far post.

It was Randy Wolters - on his first league start since October - who created the all-important goal.

The winger delivered a wicked cross from the left that bounced in the six-yard box and Murray reacted quickest to flick the ball in with his head.

ABERDEEN: Lewis, Logan, Ball (Stewart, 72 mins), O'Connor, Considine, Shinnie, McLean, Christie, McKenna, Mackay-Steven (Rooney, 90 mins), Cosgrove (May, 79 mins). Unused subs: Woodman, Arnason, Reynolds, Wright.

RANGERS: Alnwick, Tavernier, Martin, Bates, Halliday, McCrorie, Holt (Cummings, 60 mins), Candeias, Dorrans (Goss, 33 mins), Murphy, Morelos. Unused subs: Kelly, Hodson, Rossiter, Alves, Docherty.

Referee: Steven McLean.

Man of the match: Ross McCrorie

Match rating: 6/10

Belfast Telegraph

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