Rangers, Celtic, even Caley Thistle – these sides have active Offside blogs, and so should the Dons. If you are an Aberdeen fan and want to take up the job of making sure your beloved Reds have a place on the world’s best football community, go to http://www.theoffside.com/bloggers and fill out the application there. You could be blogging within a few days. Do it for the Dons.
Well, well. Who’d have thunk it? Aberdeen top of the league for the second week in a row. A Darren Mackie goal with four minutes to go in Perth secured the second three-pointer of the season against a tough St Johnstone side. Mackie later admitted his strike was a bit of a scuffer, but no matter – they all count.
Aberdeen should have had a penalty in the first half after Maguire was tripped in the box, but the referee waved away all appeals. It was the Dons who got the ball in the net first however: Considine headed in from a Hartley free kick, but referee McLean had spotted an foul in the box as the ball was crossed in.
What was particularly encouraging about this game (aside from the 3200 Reds that followed the team to Perth) was that the team-spirit was carried over from last weeks win against Hamilton, and though it wasn’t a vintage performance (again, compared to last weekend), this was precisely the sort of game we were losing every week last season. Encouraging signs then, and certainly a good time to go into our next league game which sees the Dons welcome Kilmarnock back to Pittodrie.
In-between however, we face Alloa Athletic in the Co-operative Insurance Cup (or ‘The Scottish League Cup’ for those over a certain vintage). Given our recent performances of late I don’t anticipate much trouble here, but we should always be wary of lower league sides – Aberdeen have been knocked out of quite a few Cup competitions in recent years at the hands of lower-league sides..
Alloa find themselves in second place in the Second division, undefeated following a win against East Fife and a very credible 3-3 draw against last season’s Third Division champions Livingston. They also beat East Stirlingshire in the first round of this competition. Consistent throughout all this has been the scoring of Brian Prunty, who has scored in all but one game so far this season.
Prunty turned out for the Dons in 2004, scoring twice in eighteen appearances before he was off-loaded to Inverness Caley. Spells at Airdrie, Ayr and Stirling Albion followed before he signed for Alloa at the start of this season.
Aside from Prunty however, I don’t seem much in the way of danger here for the Dons and based on our current performance, I cannot imagine any of the banana-skins of recent seasons causing another slip-up here. With a full squad to chose from, tonight’s fixture should be a formality. I don’t expect a 6-0, but certainly a chance for the Dons to continue to build on what has been a promising start to the season so far.
Final score: Alloa 0, Aberdeen 3.
Brechin v Dundee
Dunfermline v Clyde
Hearts v Elgin
Partick Thistle v Falkirk
Raith Rovers v Hamilton
St Johnstone v Morton
Inverness CT v Peterhead (Wed)
Kilmarnock v Airdrie Utd (Wed)
Queen of South v Forfar (Wed)
The Dons take to the field tomorrow in Perth hoping to continue on from the tremendous game last week, when Hamilton Accies where solidly beaten 4-0 at Pittodrie. Aye ok, three penalties (all perfectly good decisions by the way) helped, but the scoreline reflects the dominance and confidence throughout the side, with no player putting in less than a good performance.
Paul Hartley’s performance in particular drew attention, with national team coach Craig Levein going so far as to say that with Kevin Thomson out with a broken leg, Hartley will be in his mind when he comes to assemble his squad for Scotland’s next international fixtures against Lithuania and Liechtenstein in September – all in all a good start then for 33-year old Hartley.
Mark McGhee, under pressure to deliver something this season following the terrible 2009/10 campaign was understandibly delighted.
“There was attacking football, movement and pace. A lot of the things we missed last season were there today. We’ll take a bit of encouragement from it and see how we’re going to improve on it”.
I know it was only the first game of the season, and Accies are not exactly a top side (neither were we last season, and Accies did finish above us), but there’s no disagreeing with McGhee’s assesment of the game. There was a great deal more movement on the pitch, with Aluko in particular causing the Accies defence no end of headaches with his darting pacy runs.
But the statistics from the game do make for interesting reading. Posession was pretty much the same (55%/45%), but both sides had three attempts on target, and Accies had seven shots off-target, compared to Aberdeen’s four. Accies also had one more corner (five, against Aberdeen’s four). As McGhee himself said, Hamilton had a lot of shots and crosses, most of which where dealt with reasonably comfortably, but it needs to be addressed to ensure that those ‘off-targets’ are not converted to ‘on-targets’ against teams for whom finding the net is not a problem.
Which leads me nicely on to this weekends game.
This Saturday Mark Mcghee and the troops travel down to Perth for a game against an altogether trickier opponent, St Johnstone. Last season the Dons recorded a 2-1 victory in their first meeting in September, with Sone Aluko and Lee Miller, now with Championship side Middlesbrough, getting on the scoresheet. It was to be the last time Aberdeen bagged all three points however – defeats followed in the next two games, the final fixture in April of this year ending in a 1-1 draw at McDairmid Park.
Derek McInnes’ Saints where one of the more exciting teams in the league last season, free scoring at one end while at the same time having one of the more leaky defences in the competition. That defensive problem may come to the Dons’ aid for this fixture, as McInnes will once again be forced to put a make-do back four on the pitch following last weeks 1-1 draw with Hearts. Dave MacKay lasted 54 minutes while Danny Grainger is also out after he collided with the post in the same game; Steven Anderson’s red card means he’s suspended for this game. McInnes has brought in former Aberdeen player Alan Maybury in until the end of the season. The 33 year-old, on loan at Pittodrie in 2008, signed from Colchester United on a free transfer.
At the time of writing the Dons have no injury worries ahead of the game tomorrow. It’s likely McGhee will stick with Mark Howard in goal. The keeper, signed from St Mirren, put in a solid enough performance in which he did enough to keep former shotstopper Langfield out of the side.
I don’t expect the back four to change either, with McArdle, Diamond (his confidence up after scoring the third goal last week), Ifil and Considine tasked with keeping St Johnstone at bay.
Aluko and Pawlett up the wings and Hartley and Folly in the middle makes up the midfield, and Magennis will continue up front, though whether it will be alongside Maguire or possibly Mackie remains to be seen.
I expect the Dons to be in for a tougher game this week than last, but I also expect us to win. We’ll concede, but I think with the euphoria from last weeks result still in the squad and the experienced Hartley to prevent the team from running away with itself, the Dons will win: 2-1.
Regular readers will know I love a good statistic, and here is today’s: it’s been twelve years since Aberdeen last topped the SPL, but after today’s 4-0 demolition of Hamilton Accies, the Dons find themselves looking down at the rest of the league. A début hat-trick from new captain Paul Hartley and a goal from Aberdeen stalwart Zander Diamond sealed all three points in what was a terrific performance from a rampant Dons side.
Sone Aluko has seemingly put behind him his indifferent performance from last season to cause the visitors no end of trouble. In fact, it was Aluko’s attacking play that gained Hartley the first of his two goals from the penalty spot. The Nigerian got proceedings off to a start when he was tripped by Simon Mensin on 18 minutes, and when Jack Ross pulled Aluko down just before half-time; Paul Hartley took the captain’s responsibility and cooly converted both penalties. More pressing play from Aluko after the break earned a corner, from which Zander Diamond added a third. Paul Hartley completed his hat-trick when Chris Maguire was brought down with 25 minutes to go.
All in all, it was the sort of performance we’ve been missing for quite a while. Hartley did what he was supposed to do, i.e., lead from the front. New boys Yoan Folly and Josh Magennis both put in cracking efforts, while McArdle and Howard both had comfortable games at the back, as did Diamond and Considine, regulars from last season. Ifil had some dodgy moments, but had an otherwise excellent game.
Aberdeen are away to St Johnstone next week for what will be a tougher game on paper. Nevertheless, it’s great to get some points on the board and such a great performance to carry us through the week.
Hearts 1-1 St Johnstone
Two goals within seconds of each other saw the spoils shared at Tynecastle. Hearts took the lead right before half-time when Calum Elliot headed in Lee Wallace’s near post cross, but Saints replied immediately, with debutant Sam Parkin heading home from 12 yards.
Inverness 0-1 Celtic
In the early kick-off, Celtic took 56 minutes before a magnificent Paddy McCourt goal secured all three points for Neill Lennon’s side – he was later injured in the post-goal celebrations by Shaun Maloney!
Rangers 2-1 Kilmarnock
Title holders Rangers got their defence off to a winning start with a narrow win over relegation favourites Kilmarnock. James Beattie made his Rangers début but failed to get on the score sheet. Instead it fell to Kenny Miller to open the scoring on the fifteen minute mark, a rebound bouncing off his back to find the back of the net. Steven Naismith doubled the lead with half an hour left to play, before Papac pushed Dayton in the box; Hamill scored from the resulting spot-kick.
St Mirren 1-1 Dundee Utd
St Mirren manager Danny Lennon made his league début today, and he’ll be pleased with this result against last season’s third-placed team. The Buddies took the lead through Sean Lynch’s 18-yard volley and seemed to have done enough to earn all three points until Jon Daly’s 89th-minute equaliser earned Dundee United a point.
Motherwell take on Hibs tomorrow.
It’s a grim fact, but Aberdeen have not won an opening day fixture since August of 2002, when Hibs where beaten 2-1 at Easter Road. Since then, the opening days of seasons past has seen the Dons go down 2-0 to Caley and 2-0 to Hearts, to name but a few.
Last season fared no better, when the Dons where on the receiving end of a 3-1 drubbing by Celtic. Both managers on the day where in charge of their first competitive game for their respective clubs, but while Celtic’s Tony Mowbray didn’t quite last the course, Mark McGhee did, and he’ll be hoping to make this season the one that has the Dons turn the corner and put behind them the misery of last season.
The Dons start campaign 2010/11 with a home fixture against Hamilton Accies, the side the went on to beat 3-0 last season after the bad start against Celtic. Goals from Mulgrew, Considine and Maguire sealed the first three points of the season, and the Dons, seemingly where on their way. The rest, as they say, was history.
A new season brings new optimism, and while Aberdeen’s pre-season was nothing to write home about (more agonisingly embarrassing defeats to lower league opposition, the Dons going one better this year than their 4-0 demolition by Peterhead last year by losing to Fraserburgh, a Highland League team), McGhee’s summer signings – and in particular Hartley – should mean we have a little more to look forward to this year than last. McGhee can no longer shelter behind the ‘it’s not my team’ excuse, as he’s swept the broom throughout the squad to augment, strengthen and replace. Mark Howard joins from St Mirren to put some pressure on Jamie Langfield in goal, Rory McArdle, signed from Rochdale, will give some more centre-back options. Yoann Folly will join Hartley in the middle of the park, while Josh Magennis and Scott Vernon should give the Dons some potency in front of goal.
Accies go into tomorrows opening fixture without many of the key players that propelled them into 7th place (2 above Aberdeen…) and beyond everyone’s expectations. James McArthur and James Wesolowski all left over the summer, along with Brian Easton and Mickael Antoine-Curier. Former Aberdeen midfielder Gary McDonald has joined the Accies over the summer and should feature in tomorrows game.
The Dons will do without Rickie Foster (he’s injured) and I’m not sure if McGhee will go with Langfield in goal, so the probable line-up will be a 4-4-2
McArdle Ifil Diamond Considine
Pawlett Hartley Fyvie Aluko
I’ve got Fyvie in for Folly to give the midfield a bit more of an attacking edge – we are playing at home after all, but you’ve got to hope our back four can keep it together. We still cant count on Basey (boom boom!), so going into the season we’ve no natural left-back, and McArdle is a centre-back, rather than right-back (and with Foster out, we’ve not much of an option there).
I reckon the Dons will get to a winning start here: 2-1
As is customary at this time of year, here is the way I see it going next season in the SPL. No real surprises in store, but then there never really are up here.
League Champions: Rangers
On paper there is so much quality at Celtic Park this season, but for me the difference lies in the manager. Neil Lennon is a driven, passionate man who clearly loves Celtic more than life itself, but he’s taken on a monumental task. Nothing less than a league title will do for the Celtic board and fans. It’s a big ask, and with as many players coming through the door as there have been these past few weeks, it will be a real challenge to see how Lennon gels his team into a coherent shape.
His first competitive fixture of the season was a bit of a shock, going down 4-2 on aggregate to Portuguese side Braga, prompting defender Jos Hooiveld to put the exit down to a lack of real preparation, a side-effect of working with new players and staff. And it’s that lack of preparation with his multinational squad that may prove to be Lennon’s undoing if it takes more than the first few weeks of season to get the squad to work together – by which time their rivals may have already got a good lead going at the top of the table..
Rangers on the other hand are pretty much in the same shape as last season, minus one glaring omission: Kris Boyd. The oft-criticized striker has moved on to join the Scottish revolution in Middlesboro, leaving Kenny Miller and Kyle Lafferty to be the main strike force this season. Rangers have been further weakened with the departure of Nacho Novo and Steven Smith, but Boughera and Weir remain in place, as does Alan McGregor, probably the best keeper in Scotland today. What pushes the title back towards Ibrox is the fact that Walter Smith remains in charge for one more season, the wily auld fox looking to squeeze one more song out of the squeezebox before heading off to the old folks home (or ‘upstairs’, as it’s called these days). This is his swansong, and he’s going to want to go out on a high. If the financial worries can remain in the background and the club can focus on the pitch, I think that Rangers will just win it again.
Relegated: Kilmarnock. They were poor last season, surviving only by the skin of their teeth as Falkirk took what should have been Killies place in Division One. Fear not Falkirk fans, it’ll prove to be nothing more than a stay of execution, as Kilmarnock continues their life on the edge. A new manager came in to replace Jimmy Calderwood who, lacking the promise of transfer funds, no doubt saw the inevitable coming and, wanting to maintain his reputation as a decent SPL manager, decided that another season in Ayshire was not the way to bigger and better. Mixu Paateleinen, the new gaffer, is a manager whose track-record does not immediately fill you with confidence, and he’s going to have to pull out all the stop to save the club from relegation. Losing striker Kevin Kyle was always on the cards, in a protracted transfer saga that lasted most of the second half of the season.
For St Mirren it’s going to be another long season. Gus McPherson, the SPL’s longest serving manager was sacked at the end of the season to be replaced by Danny Lennon of Cowdenbeath. Yes, read that again: an SPL side managed by a First Division manager, but one with a decent track record. Lennon led the Blue Brazil back to Division One through the play-offs, inflicting defeats on Alloa and Brechin to secure promotion. He’s a winner then, but has he got enough know-how to survive in the SPL? Personally I think not, and even surrounding yourself with a whose-who of lower league football won’t work the magic. Darren McGregor, Paul McQuade, Peter Bradley, Gareth Wardlaw and Craig Samson all joined their former manager from Cowdenbeath, while Marc McAusland and Craig Samson joined from Queen of the South and Ayr United respectively.
I’d have picked St Mirren to go down if I didn’t think Kilmarnock where that poor.
We’re all dying to see how Aberdeen will fare this season in McGhee’s second season in charge. It’s do-or-die now for the man fondly known as “Dingus” – this season he’s got to deliver European football or at least a decent Cup run, or he may well be heading out the door. The midfield has been remodeled around the experienced Hartley and the energetic Folly.
Hamilton’s Billy Reid worked miracles last year to take his side into mid-table safety (even ending up with more points than sixth-placed Hearts following the league split) but we’ll see how Hamilton cope without James McArthur, who joined James McCarthy at Wigan. I suspect more mid-table safety beckons, provided Accies can make up for the lost of Curier (back to Dundee) and the club can rely on the likes of Mensing and the Paixão twins to make up for the goals.
Dundee United, Motherwell, Hibs and Hearts should continue on from last season’s progress. United especially surprised everyone to turn around a season that looked to be heading south for a long time after Levein left. Peter Houston stepped up to the plate however and guided the Terrors into third spot, and lucrative European football.
Motherwell, with the experienced if unexciting Craig Brown at the helm, got off to a good start to the season with a European win under their belt to put themselves in line for some much needed Euro-cash. The win over Aalesund put them into the Europa League playoffs where Odense BK, another Scandanavian side, awaits. A good run could net Motherwell nearly £2m – a lot of money for any club. John Sutton will lead the line this season following the departure of John Ruddy and Lukas Jutkiewicz. Motherwell should be alright though.
The Edinburgh teams will be in amongst it again this year. Hearts start their first full season under Jim Jefferies, along with Kevin Kyle, Darren Barr and Stephen Elliot. Across town, Hibernian are already out of Europe which means that they can concentrate on finding out just what exactly went wrong in the second half of last season, when, after a devastating run of form when they challenged Celtic for second place, they imploded after the New Year. I’ve said before that in Derek Riordan, Colin Nish and Anthony Stokes Hibs have a very exciting and potentially explosive front three, and the task for John Hughes is to keep the service up to the front line in the way they did in the first half of last season. Edwin de Graaf, an attacking midfielder who has represented the Netherlands ‘B’ squad, has signed up and got his career of to a good start with two goals against Maribor.
New boys Inverness Caley bounce back to the SPL after a two year break. Battlin’ Terry Butcher is still at the wheel, having lead his charges to the First Division title, winning the competition by twelve points from Dundee, the ‘Galacticos’ of Divison One and going 21 games without defeat. They won the league with 2 games spare.
Here’s hoping that St Johnstone have managed to plug the gap at the back. Last season only Rangers and Celtic scored more goals at home than Saints did, so they had no trouble finding the net. It’s a shame that the opposition didn’t have much trouble either. With thirty-three goals conceded at home (only Hibs fared worse) they clearly need to sort that out if they’re to improve on last season’s disappointing 8th place.
Here’s how I see it going:
3 Dundee United
8 St Johnstone
9 Inverness Caley
11 St Mirren
Whoever you support, have a great season! Remember to follow the other Scottish Offside blogs!
So now that the god-awful World Cup is over, we can get back to another season of Scottish Premier League football at Aberdeen FC, the mightiest team north of the Tay. Will it be a season of glory, or of mediocrity? Will the Dons finally break their Cup hoo-doo and win some bloody silverware? Will it be better than last year, or just more of the same? Well, ask me again in May next year.
For now, we’ll kick-off with a quick look back over what happened since the season ended and what we can expect in the coming months!
Last Season Prediction/Final Finish
I said we’d finish 4th; our panel said: 9th!
Jimmy Calderwood was sacked at the end of another relatively successful season for the Dons (another top half finish and European qualification), but his failure to win domestic silverware proved to be his undoing.
The arrival of Mark McGhee, a Gothenburg Hero who had managed to turn Motherwell around, was meant to mark (no pun intended) the start of the Great Recovery, but the season soon turned into one of extreme disappointment. It started poorly, continued terribly and ended badly. Humiliating Cup defeats, early exits from Europe and a season with more ups and downs than a hooker on a see-saw is how it can best be summed up.
A lowly 9th finish, the lowest since we finished bottom of the league in May 2000, was no small mercy, considering the Dons where not far short of being dragged into a relegation dogfight. That the season went this badly with essentially the same squad that Calderwood managed to get into fourth spot the season before begged some questions about McGhee’s suitability for the task at hand, not least from yours truly.
McGhee hung (or clung) on regardless surviving some pretty poor PR when he effectively blamed the fans for the clubs poor performance, an opinion shared by some of the players. The Dons fans have high expectations, sometimes unrealistic expectations, but nobody living within 25 miles of Pittodrie expects your side to crash to the likes of Dundee or Raith Rovers, or to get pumped 8-1 on aggregate to some obscure Czech side.
That the Dons where capable of better was demonstrated only in occasional flashes (the 4-4 against Celtic, the wins over Hearts, Rangers and Dundee United) but it was in those games that once upon-a-not-so-long-ago would be sure-fire bankers that the Dons slipped up. This has to improve next season.
That things needed to change was obvious, but with the club hard-up for cash, the prospect and promise of new signings to rebuild the squad had a certain hollow ring to it. Nevertheless, as the summer progressed and the World Cup came and went, McGhee was not sitting around idle.
Rory McArdle, the 23 year-old Northern Ireland defender signed from Rochdale, was the clubs first signing for the new season. He’ll be joined by Mark Howard (goalkeeper, St Mirren), Josh Magennis (forward, Cardiff), Yoann Folly (midfielder, Plymouth) and Scott Vernon, (striker, Colchester United).
The summer marquee signing without doubt is the arrival of 33 year-old Paul Hartley. He was signed from Championship side Bristol City, but will be known to fans of the game north of the border as a former Hamilton Accies, Raith Rovers, Hibernian, St Johnstone, Hearts and Celtic player. He’s also a Scotland international, gaining 25 caps and scoring once.
Hartley’s arrival meant that the club would not be making an offer for former Derby player Lee Hendrie, while Grant Basey, a former Charlton Athletic player and a natural replacement for Charlie Mulgrew at left back will probably be made a deal, with Michael Paton and Jerel Ifil (the latter an unimpressive panic buy, a loan spell may be the first steps towards punting him in January) being considered for a loan-deals in order to clear the wage bill so as to facilitate a move for Basey.
The summer has also seen players leave. Charlie Mulgrew returned from whence he once came (i.e., Celtic), Stuart Duff was released, Davide Grassi preferred a return to Italian obscurity when he failed to get the year-contract he craved (and which, based on his second half of the season performance, he might well have earned), club captain Mark Kerr moved to Greece, while the other half of Aberdeen’s midfield last season, Gary McDonald, joined Hamilton Accies and will no doubt enjoy a return to the Granite City this Saturday, the opening day of the season.
Last season’s loan-signings failed to materialize into anything more permanent, injury and finances taking care of Jim Paterson and Steven McLean respectively; both returned to Plymouth. The rarely-used midfielder Paul Marshall moved on to Walsall.
Finally, the duds signed in Calderwood’s last year in charge have also quietly moved on: Tommy Wright returned to Grimsby while the clubs two goalkeeping acquisitions, Bertand Bossu and Stuart Nelson, moved on to Crewe and Notts County respectively.
The pre-season has not been terribly impressive with the Dons only winning two of the eight games played and, more worryingly, only scoring seven goals along the way while conceding ten. At least we didn’t get pumped by Peterhead this season – that honour went to their nearest rivals Fraserburgh…
Sat 17 Fraserburgh L 3-1
Sun 18 Peterhead W 2-0
Wed 21 Dunfermline L 1-0
Sat 24 Tamworth D 1-1
Tue 27 Port Vale W 1-0
Sat 31 Brighton L 1-0
Tue 3 Brechin D 2-2
Sat 7 Kaiserslautern L 2-0
Simply astounding, I’m sure you’ll agree..
Jamie Langfield and Zander Diamond need to step up to the plate this season to steady the creaky defence that conceded 31 goals at home, more than any other club in the league. Both Langfield and Diamond have come in for criticism in recent days, Langfield for his daft and unnecessary injury (he dropped a cup of hot coffee on his foot), and Diamond for wearing his cloak of invisibility during the final friendly of the season against German side Kaiserslautern.
Up front Darren Mackie needs to improve on his four goals from last season, especially now that he faces competition from new boys Vernon and Magennis. The arrival of Hartley (the new team captain) should add some leadership to the team, something that was seriously lacking throughout 2009/10.
It doesn’t auger well when the already (mostly) dreadful squad loses not only one of the main goal scorers, a team captain and the entire ‘mid’ in ‘midfield’ but also some of the more experienced players. McGhee has rebuilt the middle of the team with Hartley and Folly. Aluko and Pawlett should figure more this season, and indeed it will be Aluko to who most Dons fans look towards to give us that bit of flair and spark up the left wing. Last season was one best forgotten for Aluko, but with the middle of the park strengthened to give the former Birmingham City and England-u21 player a bit more room to roam, he may well turn in the kind of performance that saw him become a firm favourite with the fans.
The summer signings have gone some way towards lifting the negativity and lack of optimism about the plight of the club around the town that has carried over from last season, and you can see that McGhee has a tough job to pick up the pieces and not just start winning on the park, but also start winning over the supporter in the stands.
The good news is that a) the Aberdeen youngsters (Pawlett, Fyvie etc.) did well last season and; b) the Old Firm are pretty rum at the minute. The bad news is that Aberdeen had more to fear from the Hamiltons, the St Johnstones and the Kilmarnocks of this world, rather than the Old Firm. Let’s hope this next season does not continue in that same vein, otherwise it’ll be another long hard year.
Next Season Finish
5th in the league, with a decent Cup run. Aberdeen ought to be able to do better in the Cups than they have done in recent times, when both the Scottish and the League Cup have become massive banana skins for the Dons. This year we start the road to Cup Glory with a trip to Alloa, a side who last beat us in our first foray into Scottish football back in January 1904.
What could possibly go wrong..
For any Aberdeen fan who knows his history, the date May 3rd, 1980 has a special significance, for it was on that day that the Dons became champions of Scotland, their second league title since 1955.
A team comprising of names that would eventually form the backbone of the side that would dominate Scottish football in the early 80’s and conquer Europe, beat Hibernian 5-0 at Easter Road to take League trophy out of Glasgow for the first time since Kilmarnock won it back in 1965.
Aberdeen, with Bobby Clark in goals, Andy Kennedy, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller and Doug Rougvie in the backline, a midfield made up of Gordon Strachan, Andy Watson, John McMaster and Ian Scanlon and a forward line comprising Stevie Archibald and Mark McGhee had put together a fourteen game unbeaten run – which involved back-to-back victories over Celtic at Parkhead – to help the Dons reach this pivotal game.
The only possibly fly in the ointment were defending champions Celtic, who needed a win away at Love Street to reclaim top spot, and so snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. On the day though, all the pieces fell into place for Aberdeen, as goals from Stevie Archibald, Andy Watson and a brace from Ian Scanlon helped the Dons to an easy win over an already relegated Hibs.
As the game ended, ears where glued to radios for news of the score at Love Street, a game still being played as the Aberdeen players waited on the pitch. There was a small scare – Celtic where awarded a penalty, only for the referee to change his mind – but the game remained at 0-0; Aberdeen where crowned champions. As the fans and players celebrated, an ecstatic Alex Ferguson danced on the pitch at Easter Road. None of us knew it then, but the north-east of Scotland was in for a short but thrilling roller-coaster ride.
Wind forward the clock 30 years.
The man who scored the fourth goal in that memorable victory at Easter Road is being interviewed by the BBC’s Euan McIlwraith. His side, 9th in the table and with only four points since the split, has just lost 3-1 at home to Hamilton, a game in which four of his players are booked, three goals conceded (with the proceedings getting off to a start with a goal in the first minute) and two men are sent off.
It is hard to justify such a game, but McGhee does at least try, something that can’t be said of his failing squad. The usual excuses are rolled out: the squad is not strong enough, he knows where the weaknesses are, the lack of funds in the transfer window, the team is under strength, he’s managing a team that’s failing, and, my own favourite, his managerial record was good.
His irritation is clearly building as Euan continues to press the Aberdeen gaffer on the reasons for the poor performances, but it is only when McGhee is asked whether he’s happy with his own position, that he huffs and walks out and off, ending the interview.
Walking out is something that’s become common-place at Pittodrie this season. Walking out on the fans, as evidenced by the gutless capitulations against Falkirk, St Johnstone, Kilmarnock, Hamilton, not to mention Raith Rovers and Dundee; nearly eight months on, the Sigma Olomouc results is still hard to take. Walking out on the team are the supporters, whose numbers at home games have been dwindling for some time now, a reflection at their discontent at what they see on the park, and their pessimistic outlook on the future.
For Willie Miller, another legend playing on that sunny afternoon in May 1980, this decline must hurt. Once Aberdeen’s influential and much respected captain, and now Aberdeen’s Director of Football, together Miller and McGhee won the league, the Scottish Cup, the League Cup, The Cup Winners Cup and the European Super Cup with Aberdeen. In his new lofty position Miller knows as well as anyone who knows and loves the club that the current state of affairs should not be allowed to continue.
At the current rate of decline, Aberdeen, a once proud club, look set to enter a period of confirmed mediocrity, a team on the cusp of joining the ranks of St Mirren, Hamilton, Falkirk and Kilmarnock in the bottom-to-middle of the SPL. A team that loses more than they win, and for whom each season is a matter of keeping their heads above water, as much on the park as in the bank.
I’m no expert, but from what I’ve seen so far, McGhee does not strike me as the man to take the club forward. I’m actually amazed he’s even lasted the season. His transfer-market dealings over the summer will go a long way to determining his own future, as well as the future of the club. With average crowds at Pittodrie still only marginally above 10,000, his task is to clear the decks, bring in new players and put back into the team the sort of pride and drive to succeed that stood the Dons in good stead back in 1980. Hopefully, that will bring the fans back too.
As McGhee was at pains to point out before he walked out of his interview, he’s aware of the limitations of his playing staff as well as the budget available to him. Money is an issue and it is hard to attract players to an unfashionable club. It’s a fair point, but not one unique to Aberdeen.
With the exception of Rangers and Celtic, just about every club above Aberdeen (and possibly even below, Kilmarnock excepted) are in similar financial straits than the Dons, yet the lack of money has not stopped them from putting together decent sides and decent results. St Johnstone have been terrific on a budget much smaller than that of Aberdeen’s while Hamilton’s scouts uncovered a rich vein of talent in James McArthur and former team-mate James McCarthy. St Mirren have built a decent stadium and beaten Celtic 4-0, so they must be doing something right.
A minor miracle excepted, it’s hard to see any Aberdeen team repeat what Ferguson’s first championship-winning team did back in 1980, or at least come even close to repeating that amazing feat.
While the chairman might want a nice new stadium, most fans just want a club to be proud of, with a team that at least makes an effort to compete, unlike the mishmash of overpaid, unmotivated and uninterested medium to low-skilled footballers that amble out of the tunnel on match day.
Thirty years on to the day from the momentous victory at Easter Road, and I’m reading the match reports atfter the latest debacle at Pittodrie: “Unacceptable”, says one, “the worst performance by an Aberdeen side in many a long year” says another. The local press minces no words: “no style, no substance. Precious little poise and a bleak future”.
A bleak future indeed.
Despite a much improved performance from Sunday’s fiasco against Kilmarnock, Aberdeen once again became the victims of their own poor defending and inability to deliver a decent final ball to go down 3-1 to an always stronger and more dangerous Rangers side.
Despite having the lion’s share of the possession, Aberdeen’s dud strike force only managed to convert one of their 2 attempts on goal, with Rangers scoring with each of their three shots on goal, highlighting once again Aberdeen’s need for a decent striker to put the ball away when the opportunity presents itself.
With the match effectively over after Miller’s 3rd goal, McGhee used the opportunity to blood three of the youngsters coming through the ranks at Pittodrie.
Paul Marshall and Fraser Fyvie where brought in for a decidedly uninterested Aluko and a much improved Davide Grassi, with 16-year-old midfielder Jack Grimmer becoming the youngest player to play in the SPL (breaking the record previously held by team-mate Fyvie) as he made his Dons début when he replaced McLean on 80 minutes.
Rangers now need two more wins to secure their 53rd league title. The final game of the regular season is against Dundee United on 14th April, and while the location of the potential title-winning game wont be known until the post-split fixture list is announced, for us neutrals (or at least, the ones who don’t care either way, like me), it’d be great if the crunch fixture is against Celtic at Parkhead, if only for a bit of excitement.
It is not often, living abroad as I do, that I get to see Aberdeen in action. The odd live game is taken in if and when the schedule and the airfare allows it, so for the most part I catch up on the Dons news and action via the official website or, for a more critical view, the Aberdeen Mad! notice board.
Earlier on this week an email dropped into my in box. It came from the RedTV people, telling me I’d be able to see this weekends fixture between Kilmarnock and Aberdeen using their brand new 1mb flash player, allowing me to “watch the game in amazing quality on your PC”. Excited at the prospect of seeing the Dons live, at 1630 today I sent the kids outside and the wife to the shops, and sat down in front of my PC to watch the game.
Well, the quality of the picture was certainly good which thankfully made up for the abysmal quality of the football fare on offer.
There’s not a lot to say about the game other than that Aberdeen where dire. Endless long balls to no one, poor control, poor passing, absolutely no imagination in our attack and our midfield was unable to provide anything even vaguely resembling a footballing idea.
The only players worth a mention today where Diamond and Foster, possibly even Langfield who made a few good saves. Aside from one quality turn and shot, Aluko – according to many our best player – was terrible, Grassi was unfortunate with the own goal (he had to make an interception from Severin’s skewed shot but surely a defender, one ever as poor as Grassi, should have dealt with that better). In Mark Kerr Aberdeen have probably one of the worst captains the club has ever had: too quiet and as a player simply not good enough.
It’s hard to see where Aberdeen are going to go from here. This defeat condemns us to a bottom-six finish. If performances like this continue, there is an outside chance of the team getting involved in a relegation battle and it’s worth remembering that our bottom six companions have all recorded wins against the Dons this season.
The difference between Kilmarnock and Aberdeen today was the fact that Killie has something to play for. Going into the game they where only one point above Falkirk at the bottom of the table. Kilmarnock are one team who would not survive (financially) should they go down, so every week the team are fighting not only for their league position, but also for the very survival of the club.
There is no similar desire to win at Pittodrie. The season is over, most players know that more than likely they are on their way out. Grassi, Ifil, Mulgrew, Kerr, McDonald, Mackie and even Aluko know their futures are the club are in doubt, yet none of these players seems to have the wherewithal to do something about it, to put in a performance to convince under-fire manager McGhee that they should stay at the club.
Quite simply, they don’t care. Judging by the plummeting attendances at Pittodrie, the fans are starting to not care either. A sad end. A sad demise. But inevitable, given today’s performance.
Mark McGhee’s job next season continues to be impossible, namely, to rebuild a team lacking in fight, passion, desire, talent, technique and determination. With no money and with no interest in our players, it’s hard to see how next season will be any better.
The current season is not even over, and I’m dreading next season already.