Nov 082015

Aberdeen regained that winning feeling against New Firm rivals Dundee United, quips Voice’s Andrew Watson.

merkalndpic2The weather was dreich and it was spitting with rain. Light rain but very wet. Was looking to be a messy, sliding and slippy encounter. There was also to be dedication to late teenager Bailey Gwynne.

The build up to the game didn’t really differ much to any other, though it was perhaps apt:

“Right here/
Right now”

Fatboy Slim – Right Here, Right Now

Not much to the song, lyrics-wise, but the delivery seemed perfect for some confrontational New Firm fisticuffs.  Mascot Angus the Bull was even firing up the young supporters in the Merkland Stand; and those in the corner of the Main Stand, too.

Closer to kick-off, AC/DC’s ‘Thunder’ boomed through the speakers. It was hoped the only thunder that afternoon would be the endeavour of the Dons in pursuit of winning ways.

The fixture attracted a decent crowd despite the recent run in question. Fitting, you’d suppose, given that there was to be a minute’s silence for the follow day’s Remembrance Sunday.

Aberdeen started well, with an inviting ball put out for a corner. No early goal, though.

Down the other end of the pitch keeper Danny Ward was twice forced to come out between the sticks. First to lump out the ball from danger, and second for a hasty catching of the ball.

Back up again Adam Rooney, via throw in, reached Kenny McLean but the latter was snuffed out before he could progress into the danger area.

Shaleum Logan was then chopped down for a free kick. Jonny Hayes floated in the ball too close to United’s keeper, who grasped for safety.

Later Graeme Shinnie came in with a driving run but lost ball. Play continued via teammates and the ball really should’ve been in the back of the net.

Willo Flood, as ever it seems in this fixture against his former team, showed battling spirit to earn a deflection and goal kick for his side.

Not long after, a Dundee United attack was smothered just before one on one with Ward.

After sixteen minutes of play, there was a minute’s applause for 16 year-old Bailey Gwynne.

Then Tangerines’ stopper Michal Szromnik caught a potentially costly deflection.

Shinnie then got a ball into the opposition’s box, going out for a corner.

Aberdeen, generally speaking, seemed to be focusing on possession rather than incision. Passing the ball sideways and backwards and just happy enough to keep the ball.

Ex- Arabs’ man Flood tried one from distance, but no cigar.

Someone with a bit of hunger, Logan, was seen patting away the linesman, as the latter harried him to take his throw on the right spot. His ball then went out for a corner.

The Tannadice men then had a dipping effort go out for a corner.

Flood conspired with Hayes for a set piece. The former put in a good ball, but to no end.

Aberdeen, in attacking terms, were seeking to control the ball in tight situations instead of going for the first touch. That combined with a counterproductive emphasis on possession made for some frustrating viewing.

Captain Ryan Jack was caught looking for a foul, and with play continuing Aberdeen were fortunate to diffuse the ensuing attack.

Not long after they then had to clear their lines and were fortunate, in turn, to not be a goal down.

Flood was unlucky with some determined work into the box, but was caught with a key, intercepting tackle.

There was then a big cheer in the away end as Dundee United earned one of their first corners of the game. Then they were almost one on one, but shot wide.

It became McLean’s turn to seek a foul and claim unsuccessfully. The potential ramifications though weren’t as grave as that of Jack’s instance.

Halftime was called right as the Dons delivered into their New Firm rival’s box. The Red Army were left wondering why time wasn’t called when the ball was in a more neutral position.

Come the second half Hayes persisted as danger man. His cross starting the half, however, was caught by Szromnik.

His defence mopped up a subsequent corner.

The Dons defence was then lucky that the recalcitrance of former skipper Mark Reynolds to make a challenge was rewarded with a poor headed effort by United.

The moment the Reds were hoping for finally came with Rooney exploiting a busy box. This shut up a very rowdy Tangerines’ crowd.

1-0 Aberdeen after 52 minutes!

Afterwards Hayes sent in yet another perfectly weighted and dangerous ball, almost resulting in a second goal.

Later Aberdeen broke free, but were eventually shut down.

Dundee United almost foiled the home side with a low drive just past the hands of Ward and his post on the bottom corner.

McLean lofted a ball to Shinnie, but the latter’s first touch controlling the ball was a poor one.

Not long after he also seemed to go down a bit softly, earning a free kick. The opportunity, however, was left unexploited.

Dundee United were making hard work of Aberdeen’s bid for a second goal, and an instance of their defending in the box was exemplary. Talk about putting your head on the chopping block. Kamikaze commitment was one way of putting it.

Again, Aberdeen were scared of first touch; not knowing when to pull the trigger.

United then had a close one in the attack. This one almost shaved the opposite post, this time.

Another away attack was staved with a Peter Pawlett header. A subsequent attack, however, wasn’t deal with so good. Confusion and hesitance were in abundance, and still they were let off the hook.

Hayes responded with a superb run right down towards the box of the opposition, driving a low and powerful shot into the bottom far corner.

2-0 Aberdeen in 73 minutes!

He then had a little disagreement, back outside his own box, with Shinnie as to who should be marking who. They left a free man, but thankfully didn’t pay for it.

McLean was then substituted seven minutes after goal. He was replaced by Barry Robson. Niall McGinn then came on for Pawlett.

Hayes then attempted a top corner effort, though unsuccessfully. Later he was callously shoved off the ball after outplaying his opponent with a fine piece of skill.  He deservedly won Man of the Match.

United came in late with a laughable, speculative shot on goal. They skied it.

The home side, in the latter minutes, mopped up an advance rather poorly and were lucky to get away with it.

Aberdeen then made their third and final change after 90 minutes. This was to take off Hayes and bring on Liverpool loanee Ryan McLaughlin.

Final score:  2-0.

Aug 182011

Earlier this year, on Eddie Turnbull’s birthday – that’ll be 12 April, then – the writer of this article opined that that Dons great would live  forever. He died a few weeks later and there was a genuine, deserved, widespread expression of grief from the Scottish fitba community. The Boss was 88. Of course he couldn’t be expected to live forever, but when one’s heroes or icons die, the world seems a dimmer place.
This week, Dons fans of a certain vintage, among them Voice’s David Innes are mourning the loss of Francis Munro, rarely mentioned in pub and online debates about Great Reds, yet from 1966-68 the most dynamic and explosive individual in a supremely-talented squad.

The statistics show that Francis Michael Munro played 59 games for the Dons and scored 14 goals.
In today’s multi-media analytical world, his number of assists, the yards he covered during 90 minutes, his percentage successful passing rate would all be monitored and published. Had  such analysis been available in Franny’s time at Pittodrie, his value would have been far more obvious 45 years on.

But it still wouldn’t have told the full story.

When I interviewed Eddie Turnbull in 1997 for an as yet unpublished account of the Dons 1967 USA adventure as The Washington Whips, I asked The Boss about Franny in particular. Why? Because on Christmas Eve 1966, I was to witness this teenager rule the midfield in a top of the table head-to-head with Celtic, a mere five months before Jock Stein’s team lifted the European Cup.

Stein’s midfield of the time included luminaries such as Bertie Auld and Bobby Murdoch, yet it was Munro who bossed the game and, had it not been for Ronnie’s Simpson’s breathtaking save just before the end, Munro’s piledriving late goal attempt would have secured a rare victory over Celtic. He achieved instant hero status from this wide-eyed loon.

He wasn’t about blood and thunder, though. He was as graceful an athlete, despite an ongoing weight problem, as any of the more high-profile figures of the time.

During the 1997 interview, his manager told me,

“It shows how if you’re aware or alert what can happen. In the early days, before I came to Aberdeen, I was in charge of the Scotland Under-18s. And I remember Francis as a fifteen or sixteen  year old, and I thought, ‘This is some player’. Of course he was a Dundee boy and he went to Dundee United, but Jerry Kerr couldn’t handle him and he started getting into the wrong company.

“He was one of the finest long passers of a ball that I ever saw in my life, that I ever had under me, that I ever played against. He would say, ‘I can’t do that’, and I would say, ‘You’re the most skilful of the lot’. That was when he first came in, he was an introvert. A lovely lad. For a big man, he was so light on his feet. He’d great vision, could see everything on the park.”

In his pen picture of Franny in a programme for a Washington Whips fixture in summer 1967, The Boss described his protégé as being “as nimble as a ballerina”.

In the States, he proved his worth, even scoring a hat trick in the largely-forgotten but supremely thrilling President’s Cup final. He followed that by becoming the first Aberdeen player to score, and the first Don to score a hat trick in a European tie, both in the 10-0 extirpation of KR Reykjavik, the Dons’ debut competitive European outing.

He wis some boy

Wolves, who had been on the receiving end of Franny’s hat trick in the USA, eventually persuaded the Dons to transfer him to Molineux in 1968. He was immediately converted into a centre half, the Wolves number 5 shirt as comfortable on his back as his Pittodrie number 4 had been. At Wolves, he won a League Cup winners’ medal in 1973-74 and became a club legend.

I hope that two Wolves fans for whom I have almost as  much long-distance affection as I had for Franny – Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Dexys’ Kevin Rowland – idolised him as much as I did.

During my research in 1997, I spoke briefly with Franny on the phone. I hope I didn’t come across like a babbling, tongue-tied teenager. He was very polite, informative and interested in what I was doing, but was obviously in poor health, an affliction which continued until his death on 16 August 2011 aged 64, no age at all really.

That he shares his date of death with Elvis is a coincidence that I will regard as wholly indicative of the level of Franny Munro’s talent.

Sleep easy, big fella.

Jul 212011

With the SPL’s big kick-off looming, what kind of shape are Aberdeen in, compared to the other top six challengers?  Philip Sim takes a hard look at how next season is shaping up.

Aberdeen, Hearts, Dundee United, Hibs and Motherwell are the traditional and some might say obvious candidates to join Rangers and Celtic in the top six by next May.

Kilmarnock were a surprise inclusion last season, but have lost their manager and star player over the summer and have recruited relatively little proven quality, save perhaps Gary Harkins, who is yet to prove himself at SPL level.

Hearts have made some good signings and generally seem to have strengthened across the board, despite their ongoing off-the-field difficulties. Many of their signings are more squad players than stars, but they have retained the core of last year’s team, and if they can hang on to the likes of Rudi Skacel and Marian Kello then realistically third place is theirs to throw away.

Dundee United meanwhile has lost an entire midfield in Buaben, Gomis, Conway and Robertson, as well as defensive cover in Darren Dods. Their only quality recruitment has been Willo Flood – how much of the budget has he taken up? – and the less said about Hibs reject John Rankin the better. They have young players coming through, but they desperately need to make some signings before the window ‘slams shut’ or their top six position is far from assured.

Hibs have spent most of the summer in a weird state of limbo, with manager Colin Calderwood openly pondering a move back to Nottingham Forest. They have made two very good signings in Ivan Sproule and Garry O’Conner, both proven players who know the club well. However they have lost eleven players over the summer, including Liam Miller, Derek Riordan and Colin Nish, so their squad is pretty thin on the ground. Their traditionally excellent conveyor belt of youth talent can’t prop up the team forever, but how many quality players are going to be attracted to a club whose manager might jump ship to be an assistant in the Championship?

Motherwell is in a similar position to Dundee United in that they haven’t recruited nearly enough players. They have made one good signing in Michael Higdon, but he will act as a direct replacement for Hearts-bound John Sutton.  They’re currently sitting at eight out and just two in. Retaining Steven Jennings is a plus, but it would be very difficult to claim the Steelmen have strengthened.

So now to the Dandy Dons…how does their summer match up? At first glance, the picture appears slightly gloomy – it seems like eight out and five in. Nine out really, with Jamie Langfield incapacitated for the foreseeable future. However on closer inspection, Craig Brown has paid attention to where Aberdeen were found lacking last season and has strengthened the core of the team.

This does not look like a team which will be over-run in midfield or indeed a team which will give up cricket scores at Celtic Park

The starting back four this term could be completely different to that which was bested so regularly last term. The team has two players with experience of playing full-back in Foster and Chris Clark, and two players with strength, presence and experience at centre-half in Youl Mawene and Kari Arnason.

The addition of Arnason and Osbourne will bring a bit of steel to the team, a bit of fight that was crucially missing last season.

Although this remains in the realm of speculation, this does not look like a team which will be over-run in midfield, or indeed a team which will give up cricket scores at Celtic Park.  There are also a number of very adaptable players in the squad, including Clark, Osbourne, Foster and Arnason, who can play both defence and midfield, which will come in handy when the team suffers its traditional mid-season injury crisis.

The only thing the Dons are missing right now is a replacement for Sone Aluko and Chris Maguire, a bit of creativity and flair going forward. A signing needs to be made here, as the entire burden cannot be placed on youngsters like Peter Pawlett, Fraser Fyvie and Nicky Low.

Craig Brown has publicly made a flair striker his priority, and if he secures this – probably through a loan from  England – then Aberdeen will be in excellent shape to take the fight to the other top six challengers for those precious European qualification spots.