Defeats at Ibrox are becoming rather run of the mill for Aberdeen, and while words like “spirited” and “plucky” will be attributed to the Dons’ performance today, many fans will be wondering why their side waited until the second half to show any attacking ambition. Philip Sim reports.
Aberdeen are yet to score on their travels in the SPL this season and in the first half didn’t look likely to change that record. They lined up with a rather negative, defensive 4-5-1 formation despite the recent woes of their opponents.
Even with a five man midfield there was precious little width, with Rob Milsom and Ryan Jack deployed on the flanks.
The Dons had plenty of the ball in the opening period, often stringing together sequences of ten or more passes across the middle of the park, making the extra man count, but attacks broke down almost before they’d even got as far as lone striker Scott Vernon.
While they did prove difficult to break down – David Gonzalez barely touched the ball other than to pick Steven Davis’ 15th minute opener out of the net – they offered absolutely nothing going forward, not even drawing a save from Allan McGregor in the hosts goal in the first half.
The introduction of Peter Pawlett for Jack in at half time introduced pace and width to what had been a dour game for the first time, and there was almost an immediate impact. Scott Vernon raced clear seconds after the restart but was forced wide by McGregor.
Pawlett then burst free down the left and laid back for McArdle to cross, and McGregor pulled off a fantastic full-stretch save to prevent Carlos Bocanegra’s looping header going in as an own goal. Ricky Foster – who spent last season on loan at Ibrox – hurled himself onto the rebound but his diving header came back off the crossbar. Fraser Fyvie and Kari Arnason both fired in efforts from range as the Dons put the hosts under the cosh.
After Dons boss Craig Brown introduced new signing Mohamed Chalali for defender Rory McArdle, Rangers responded by moving to a more defensive formation akin to that the visitors adopted in the first half, dropping Bedoya into midfield. It was they who now benefited from having an extra man in the middle, Chalali having joined Josh Magennis in the Dons attack, and this was telling from the way Pawlett and Fyvie faded from the game. Isaac Osbourne was still winning every 50-50 ball and many more, but his side struggled to find space to craft an opening.
Aberdeen’s control over the game faltered as Rangers looked to close it out at 1 – 0. They were gifted a scarcely deserved second right at the death courtesy of David Gonzalez, who fumbled a powerful Davis free-kick loose into the box for Steven Naismith to tap home.
This added a little more gloss to the result than the hosts merited, having looked increasingly beleaguered since half time.
Once again Aberdeen can take heart from their performance in portions of the game, and the result flatters Rangers to an extent as they were not the better side by a clear two goal margin. But Craig Brown needs to learn lessons from this – his team have only ever performed for half of a game so far this season, and this has rarely produced results. They have shown themselves capable of playing good football, but are unable to produce this with any consistency.
With the SPL taking a break for international matches next week, this is a good time to take stock. The squad is beginning to gel well and the new signings - Osbourne and Arnason in particular, although Mawene was also solid at Ibrox – look a distinct improvement on those they replaced.
However there is still a real lack of width in the team, and it appears that Mohamed Chalali has been signed as an out-and-out striker. If a wide man – a left-footed version of Peter Pawlett, if possible – isn’t a priority before the transfer window closes, then Brown needs to better utilise the personnel that he has. His side have been at their best in recent fixtures when stretching other teams, going at them with width and pace, but the team is seldom set up to do that.
Every game this season, the complaints have been the same – width, creativity, finishing, and consistency – if Aberdeen were to play for 90 minutes the way they have in half-hour spells against Rangers, Hearts and Inverness, they would have a lot more than four points on the board right now. The team undoubtedly has a solid base with plenty to build on there, but as things stand it remains some way from being a finished product.