Mar 192017

By Red Fin Hall.

The match against ‘they who were once contenders’ before Robbie Neilson jumped ship to go to MK. Dons and the young statistician took over, was a game where nothing short of a Dons win would suffice; not just to make it nine home wins in a row, but to rectify a poor recent record of results versus Hearts.

Aberdeen reverted back to the usual suspects in the team fielded, with Mark Reynolds still out injured, Anthony O’Connor retaining his place, and Jayden Stockley back on the bench.

It was a fine but sunny-ish day, with the rain, thankfully, staying off. Hearts won the toss, and decided to kick off towards the Merkland Stand. The match referee was Steven McLean.

The Dons started off in a positive manner, winning two corner kicks in the first minute. Hearts got theirs five minutes in when O’Connor and Esmael Goncalves were involved in the first real tackle of the game.

8 minutes in the home team were awarded their 2nd free kick, a pattern which was set for the whole of the game.

Kenny McLean continued on from the last game, being involved in almost everything that happened on every part of the field. However, he was an unwilling participant in the first booking of the game, when he was chopped down by Alexander Tziolis.

Aberdeen were well at the top of their game, and even this early in the proceedings there was some pretty fine football being played. But, Hearts being Hearts, they interspersed trying to make a game of it with their trademark fouling.

Aberdeen were nearly hit with a sucker punch as the visitors progressed upfield, but some calm defending meant that the shot from Arnaud Djoum never troubled Joe Lewis, and the ball sailed over the bar for a goal kick.
Leonard Sowah was the next player to concede a free kick for a foul on Ryan Jack.

With 23 minutes elapsed we saw the best move of the game when Andrew Considine and Niall McGinn showed some skill in passing and possession, with the latter firing a perfect cross from the left side into the 18 yard area to find Shay Logan running across the front of goal and heading the ball into the back of the net.


McGinn was the executor of the next chance a mere 4 minutes later when he fired a good ball in for Adam Rooney. Rooney couldn’t quite make contact with it and it fell perfectly for Graeme Shinnie. Alas, the best we could get was a corner, which, when taken was too long for anybody.

Next, left back Considine passed forward an almost perfect ball for Hayes, but he wasn’t expecting it and failed to control it.

Hearts found themselves having the ball for a good bit of play until their work was broken up by McLean, who was then fouled for his trouble.

within the first 2 minutes Rooney had the ball in the net

Playing to his usual high standard, Shinnie collected the ball on the edge of the opposition box, turned swiftly and chipped the ball in.

It went over the bar though.

The Dons were a joy to watch, and the goal had obviously knocked the stuffing out of the men from Edinburgh, with Goncalves seemingly giving up on chasing loose balls down to easily.

Meanwhile, McGinn showed again why there may be top clubs after him in the summer, when he aimed for Rooney with a superb ball in from the sideline. The Irish striker was just unable to reach it. Still looking dangerous though.

Sam Nicholson, despite not having a game of the standard you might expect from him, tried running at the Dons defence looking for an equaliser before half time, but his finish was poor and the ball was inches away from clearing the roof of The Merkland Stand.

Just on half time Hearts had another possible goal failing by poor shooting, this time by Goncalves. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as the player was adjudged to be offside, although he didn’t know it at the time.

Half time 1-0.
The second half kicked off with The Dons attacking, and within the first 2 minutes Rooney had the ball in the net, but the whistle had been blown for offside.
57 minutes had passed when Logan took a throw in to Hayes, who passed to McLean who is not shot shy, but couldn’t find the second goal.

Don Cowie, the Hearts captain was booked for a foul on McLean. The free kick went no further than the wall though.

There next followed a catalogue of errors by Hearts starting off when McLean stole the ball off a Hearts player in midfield, but then after getting it back, the Dons forced a slack pass back from Anastasios Avlonitis. Before Hearts’ keeper Jack Hamilton could get to the ball, Jonny Hayes nipped in and collected it.

The keeper made a timing error when he dived at the feet of the onrushing Hayes, missing both the ball and the attacker, making it easy for him to kick the ball into an empty net.


The second half continued in such a fashion, with the Dons pushing high upfield and Hearts fouling, mainly McLean, with Jamie Walker getting a yellow card for doing so just after 80 minutes had passed.

Just before that, however, Rooney was substituted and Jayden Stockley came on. The tall forward is more often than not, proven to have a crucial effect on games when he comes off the bench. Today was no different, but time it wasn’t so good. The Hearts players couldn’t quite handle him, and as he tried to break upfield with minutes left to play Krystian Novak, in an attempt to stop him, was pulling him back.

None of the officials saw this, but they did see Stockley foolishly react by swiping back at the player with his hand, making contact with Novak’s face. The Hearts player, unsurprisingly, went down over dramatically. The Dons player was correctly shown a straight red card for his part in the incident.

Dying the time that Novak was being treated for the gentle tap on the face he received, both Shinnie and Hearts substitute, Malaury Martin, were yellow carded for pushing and shoving like petulant schoolboys.

Ryan Christie and Frank Ross both got very minimal run-outs in the last few minutes. The fourth official indicated that three minutes stoppage time would be played, which passed without further incident. The full time whistle went, and Man Of The Match, Kenny McLean must continue to ponder what he has to do to get back into the Scotland squad.

Full time 2-0

Next game is away to Dundee on the last day of the month, before Inverness Caledonian Thistle pay a visit on 4th April.

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Aug 152016

Aberdeen could only grind out a draw against a defensively resolute Hearts side, says Voice reporter Andrew Watson.

merkalndpic3In terms of the pitch, the day started brightly, a bit of rain ensuring the pitch not to be too dry. ‘Waterfront’, by Simple Minds, with “come in, come out of the rain”, playing over the tannoy very apt, indeed.

Hearts’ support was very vocal, nestled in the away end of the South Stand. There appeared to be strains of “You’re Not Famous Anymore” emanating from that very section.

When the match proper began, Peter Pawlett connected with Jayden Stockley, the latter almost heading the ball into the net.

Then there was a long distant effort from Aberdeen. Right idea, but the ball went wide.

Pawlett forced a corner, with the ball eventually going out for a goal kick.

A subsequent scramble in the Hearts box could’ve been a goal for Aberdeen.

Niall McGinn had his shot deflected by the keeper, Jack Hamilton, for a corner. Hearts fared with an attempt of their own, too.

Wes Burns created a free kick, which was taken by McGinn.

The first real flashpoint saw the ball almost over the line, saved expertly by Hamilton via an acrobatic punch out of the danger area.

Down the other end, the ball bobbled favourably for Aberdeen as Hearts struck out on goal.

The first booking of the game came as Aberdeen won a free kick.

Hearts then had more close attempts on goal, with Aberdeen very fortunate to survive them.

The Jambos even seemed to be awarded a soft foul not too far from the outside of the Aberdeen box. A glancing header went wide.

One of their charges, Faycal Rherras, however, got booked for petulance, having booted the ball away in anger in response to a free kick decision.

Pawlett was awarded another free kick at Hearts’ expense, too.

Then followed yet another Hearts’ booking, some of their play seeming very cynical.

Shaleum Logan got forward, his ball, whether shot or cross, ending up in Hamilton’s arms.

McGinn’s free kick, later on in the game, went over the bar.

Halftime 0-0.

Anthony O’Connor kicked off the second half with a superb sliding block to deny the Jam Tarts.

Aberdeen, in turn, weighed in with a powerful but inaccurate shot.

O’Connor, again, fared with a timely tackle of the sliding variety.

There were yellow cards aplenty as Aberdeen won another free kick.

Logan seemed to help steer the ball, as best as he could, into the net. Pity the recipient put it wide.

McGinn raced down the wing, putting the ball over the bar.

Hearts came close, with O’Connor perhaps changing the trajectory of the ball favourably for Aberdeen.

The Dons then made a double substitution with Burns coming off for Kenny McLean, and Stockley coming off for Adam Rooney.

Aberdeen advanced, but were swatted away, Hearts faring with a superb defensive diving header.

O’Connor appeared to be hurting after another excellent commitment to the Aberdeen defensive cause.

Hearts then somehow absorbed a weighty Aberdeen attack.

After this, Hamilton leapt to catch the ball and defuse Aberdeen.

The latter were lucky not to be a goal down, after inviting Hearts to score after allowing too much time on the ball.

Graeme Shinnie was commanding, soaking up tackles and, at the same time, ploughing forward.

Then a header glanced wide for Aberdeen.

A final Aberdeen substitution was made, Miles Storey coming on for Pawlett.

Having not put a foot wrong up until now, O’Connor appeared to flap for the first time. Thankfully this was rectified by an alert Logan, sweeping the ball away from danger.

Arguably Hearts standout player, keeper Hamilton, for the umpteenth time, rose to the occasion, catching yet another Aberdeen delivery. He did so, again, even holding on after being knocked off his feet, courtesy of an aggressive Aberdeen attack.

Hearts then came with a fortuitous free kick, in a very advantageous position. It was struck with some power, but hitting off the defensive wall.

The Hearts’ defence, in turn, really put their heads on the chopping block with their never say die, suicidal defensive diving headers to prompt the ball out of danger.

Aberdeen had a penalty claim ignored.

Hearts put what appeared an inevitable goal over the bar from, really, no distance at all.

An additional two minutes of play was announced.

Before the Red Army faithful knew it, their side had been frustrated to a second subsequent goalless draw. Very disappointing, indeed.

Final score:  0-0.

May 132016

Aberdeen looked set for stalemate until Hearts cruelly pounced upon a rebound, says Voice reporter Andrew Watson.

pittodrieIn terms of the pitch, it looked the best as it had done in a long time, it didn’t even look patchy in the fine sun.
‘All These Things That I’ve Done’, by The Killers, proved a curious choice for over the tannoys. Was this conveying regret at missed chances, beating the big Bhoys twice at Pittodrie yet dropping points to minnows when least expected?

However, it was, indeed, rousing when the middle section, “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier” kicked in. The latter, perhaps, urging to forget all that’s past and finish on a high?

Late super fan, Norman Goldie, had banners unfurled for him in front of the Merkland Stand, as news was announced of his ‘retired’ seat in that very stand, following his death. This seat is half red, half white, like his famous odd socks, with a gold plaque of his name in the middle. The banner itself was a portrait caricature, the other stating, “Norman Goldie, R.I.P.”

It was good to see Hearts fans, seemingly, applauding in tribute too. Even mascot, Angus The Bull, was wearing, in the signature style of Norman, odd red and white socks.

Onto the game proper, Aberdeen quickly won a free kick after a tussle for the ball.

A fortuitous throw was also earned in the Dick Donald Stand and South Stand corner, but this came of no consequence.

Both teams were, so far, lumping the ball into the air, perhaps not realising the advantages of keeping it on the deck.

Winger Jonny Hayes absorbed a collision and chased the ball doggedly, meting out as much as he was given.

A ball was then whipped into Heart’s box, but the move was left unfinished.

Down the other end, defender Andrew Considine was urging keeper Adam Collin to calm down after the latter’s distribution put the big man under pressure.

This was followed with some good link up play in the final third, instigated by captain Ryan Jack. Again, they came very close barely seconds later.

Soon after, wing back Shaleum Logan should’ve, opted for the headed pass back to Collin. Instead, he headed out the box, and the subsequent ball was picked up by Hearts, but nothing came of it.

Then it was the Hearts backline under the cosh, but the low delivery was swatted away.

They, in turn, raced into Aberdeen’s box and were unlucky not to punish the Dons.

Logan completed a subsequent defensive mop up, as Hearts put them under pressure in their own box. Not long after, he made amends for earlier on with a headed pass back. Good call.

Opposite keeper, Jack Hamilton, was forced into a save, but it was quite a tame effort.

Hayes earned a free kick for his side, seemingly barely a yard from being a penalty. The resulting penalty went over the bar.

Niall McGinn then drove in a low effort, though nobody was there to make it pinpoint.

Hayes cropped up, again, firing into the box and earning a corner with a deflection.

Down the other end, a cruel Hayes deflection nearly gifted the Jam Tarts.

Later, newbie Scott McKenna cleared his lines well as his Hearts counterpart homed in on goal.

Logan came in, in a subsequent move, with a vital touch to a goalward ball which Collin pushed out for a corner. He stamped his authority on the set piece, rising above all to catch.

The ever present Hayes was belting into the territory of the Tynecastle men, and was, perhaps, unlucky to not force his opposite numbers into a penalty situation.

Ashton Taylor, in turn, snuffed out Hearts’ advance.

McKenna then headed out a threatening ball for a throw in.

A tame effort from Logan, down the other final third, went straight into the arms of Hamilton.

Collin, meanwhile, was caught out with a bad clearance, nearly gifting the Tynecastle side a goal.

Considine, not long after, came in with an expert foot to the ball, defusing Hearts and going out for a throw.

Collin went onto spill a ball but wasn’t, thankfully, in play at the time.

Halftime 0-0.

There was a really early corner for the Dons, but nothing came of it.

On the other hand, a Hearts advance appeared to get home crowd plaudits with some silky skills indeed.

McGinn then lofted a perfect ball right down to the feet of Hayes. Again, nothing came of it.

Aberdeen became very fortunate to have a clean sheet after a defensive lapse, though the attacker hit the ball sky high.

At the opposite end, there was some excellent last gasp defending from Hearts. McGinn couldn’t quite beat his man for a cross into the box.

Following this was some poor link up play between Taylor and Willo Flood, gifting the ball to the Jam Tarts.

Hayes, as ever, was amidst it all with a rocket of a free kick, which deflected out for corner. Hearts came with an excellent header out and away from the box.  Barely seconds later, the ball glanced past the post, as it dipped and came down.

McKenna, in the other box, played it risky with Collin, as the latter was forced into a rash clearance.

Flood then made a similar move, but Collin had slightly more time to respond.

McGinn, in the other half, was unfortunate not to catch the Hearts keeper sleeping. The latter was being a tad lazy with the ball at his feet.

A Hearts free kick was then saved, but then the rebound went in after 64 minutes. Until then, most would’ve honestly thought it could only end as a stalemate, or perhaps Aberdeen maybe nicking a goal given their possession in the final third.

0-1 (Abiola Dauda).

Captain Jack, not long after, appeared to be trying to shrug off a knock, limping ever so slightly.

McKenna was taken off, with Cammy Smith coming on after 71 minutes.

As an aside, there were jeers in the Merkland Stand for a steward removing a bobbing, soccer style beach ball.

Hayes, the main man for the past few games, came in with a few balls into Hearts’ box, all of which were batted away.

Graeme Shinnie in turn potentially set himself up for a goal scoring opportunity.

Juwon Oshaniwa provided another light moment when soaking up (ahem…) glory from the South and Merkland Stand corners. He’d, previously in the game, attained a reputation for dubious throw ins. At least he could laugh about it, as they say.

Joe Nuttall was then put on, in favour of Flood after 81 minutes.

Earlier substitution, McKenna, was announced over the tannoys as man of the match. There was also to be three minutes of additional play.

Logan’s ball into the Hearts box defied everyone, and a shame because the delivery could’ve instigated a perfect equaliser.

Maybe better a better keeper would’ve kept a clean sheet for this one? Moments in Motherwell game seemed to attest to that. At least the Dons would’ve stood a chance of rewarding the Red Army with a superior points total to last season.

Final score:  0-1.

Dec 142015

Aberdeen survived the first true test of their comeback against quite a stout Hearts side, says Andrew Watson.

merkalndpic2As with the Ross County game, the pitch was surprisingly good for the time of year.

Again, it was a bit chilly, but not too bad.

Before kick-off there was a sizeable, interesting and colourful display, in the Dick Donald stand, of metallic red and silver.

Aberdeen had to repel a couple early advances from the Jambos, though managed to put the ball out of play.

Jonny Hayes then had a free kick claim denied near the corner. He then knocked a high ball into the box, only marginally inaccurate.

Kenny McLean suffered at the hands of a pedantic referee in Craig Thomson, after challenging for a header. He then missed the far post by inches.

Supporters were jubilant, thinking ‘goal’, but had to make do with a second chance via a corner.

The Tyncastle side, however, went on the counter attack. They, then, had a second chance with a corner.

After that, Graeme Shinnie caught an excellent pass but was defeated by the defender. That eventually went out for a corner.

Generally, there were then some poor balls from Aberdeen. There was just not enough height to them to meet their receiver. However, Hearts were seemingly first to every ball.  In the air, especially.

Hayes then came in with a cross come shot, and almost scored.

Willo Flood came in with some tough tackling to breakdown Hearts, but threw away advantage with a heavy touch upon nutmegging the opposition.

Hayes then won a free kick after being fouled. After that, he came in with a timely tackle to halt a counterattack.

Hearts’ Miguel Pallardo was then booked for checking Peter Pawlett. Not long after, they then received a subsequent warning which incensed the home crowd.

McLean, amidst all the physicality, wasn’t afraid to get dirty and slid to knock the ball into the box.

Defender Ashton Taylor then weighed in with a shot of fine power, but slightly lacking in accuracy.

Hayes, however, not long after came sliding in on the volley. Powerful but straight at keeper, Neil Alexander.

Flood was proving to be a workhorse, chasing the ball and very determined in the tackle, but his passing was wayward; backwards and sideways.

Subsequently, McLean was caught too busy looking for the foul in the box. He should’ve really played advantage and capitalised.

It also became apparent that Hearts couldn’t be beaten to the challenge in the air. Long balls, therefore, weren’t looking likely to work against them.

Again McLean was amidst it all, dashing down the wing. He was eventually stopped, but earned his side a free kick just outside the box. This was headed straight into the keeper’s arms.

Adam Rooney then pressed forward, but lost the impetus of his side’s attack. It went out, albeit it for a home side throw. Then, after that, the away side took the potential sting out of things when one of their own went down.

After all this hoopla, Shaleum Logan, whether shooting or crossing, put the ball on the roof of the net after that throw.

Alexander then came to the rescue of his side with an athletic save.

There was then one minute of additional play before the half ended.

Ryan Jack came on the pitch to replace Mark Reynolds after 45 minutes, just before kicking off the second half.

Things kicked off with Andrew Considine recovering a poor pass from Flood, with an expert sliding tackle.

There was another reasonable ball into the opposition’s box, but again Aberdeen were beaten by the height of the Hearts’ defence. The latter then cleared the ball off the line, after another attack.

The Edinburgh men then cracked the ball off the home side’s crossbar, and then got booked for a heavy challenge. This had the Red Army up in arms.

Aberdeen then had a chance glance from goal, with an almost successful cross. It didn’t quite make it, though.

Hearts remained resolute despite Aberdeen’s constant barrage of attacks. Alexander appeared to suffer the brunt of the onslaught, but managed to stay on the pitch.

There was then good linkup play between Rooney and Shinnie, but they were thwarted in the end.

The latter soon found himself off the pitch, but thankfully came back on.

The ball was then knocked over the bar for an Aberdeen corner.

Pawlett was felled, which resulted in a worrying Hearts counterattack. They were barely inches from scoring. Then a corner, then the ball was knocked off the line!

Hearts then accrued what would end up four yellow cards in the game, with Shinnie backed into after beating his man.

There then followed a period in which Hearts, for the first time since the opening stages, found their attacking feet.

Considine saved Aberdeen’s blushes, heading away a goalward cross. Danny Ward also rised, and caught, another attempt on his goal.

McInnes made his final substitute at 73 minutes, with Pawlett coming off for David Goodwillie.

Flood then found himself lucky not to be sent off, after coming in with a late lunge. He looked to have avoided the yellow, but that would’ve been totally unfair to the away side.

Up the other end of the pitch, too many touches were made in the opponent’s box. Goodwillie, in particular, was guilty of this.

A last gasp challenge was made, once they lost the ball, in their own box.  Luck would have it this sliding interception wasn’t considered penalty worthy.

The game began to get progressively more bad tempered as time wore on.

The Dons defence was really waning with the pressure.

It was near the death when Ward made an authoritive catch to ease things for his beleaguered back four.

His team then instigated, somehow, a penalty.

It was Adam Rooney who stepped up. He did, coolly slotting it away in the bottom corner. Alexander made it a photo finish.

1-0 after 87 minutes!

Hayes, after this, ran at the defence, earning Aberdeen a corner.

There was then two minutes of additional play before the game ended.

Hearts, with their last throw of the dice, blootered the ball nowhere near the goal. It was a fine defensive display by Hearts, but they were defeated with a lowly drilled penalty when they couldn’t be beaten with the long ball.

Final score:  1-0.

Dec 212011

A £15m debt? Plans to move to new premises that have not convinced the customers and neighbours? Under-performing product? Surely such an organisation’s AGM would see calls for change at the top, summary dismissals, a new financial model? Normally yes, but this is football where normal capitalist business practice is forgotten. David Innes reports from the Dons AGM held on Monday 19 December.

This was, Chairman Stewart Milne declared, the 108th AGM of Aberdeen Football Club. It is the sixteenth of these since the first major share issue of 1996, but whereas the 1996 meeting had to be held in the Capitol to accommodate the hundreds who attended, the 108th meeting quorum was comfortably contained in just one half of Pittodrie’s Europa Lounge.

The systemic stuff, in the form of seven resolutions, was over in a trice. The three directors – Messrs Fraser, Little and Matheson – retiring by rotation were re-elected without opposition, the appointment of two new directors in Colin Welsh and Ian Jack were ratified and the boring accounts drollery was nodded through.

So, to the main course and questions from the floor.

As expected, directors were asked for information on views on debt, Loirston, public relations, the team’s under-achievement, the onfield disciplinary record and the possibility of introducing standing sections in the new build.

There is still an admitted funding gap in the budget for relocation, but we were assured that the bank-demanded milestones relating to this were achievable and that initial construction work was expected to start, on target, in April 2012. The funding needed for the new ground will not affect the football budget which Craig Brown publicly admitted was the fourth best in the SPL and certainly less than his budget when he was Motherwell manager.

On the £2.5m loan extended to the club by the companies run by Milne and fellow director Hugh Little, the latter was blunt in his assessment. This loan, he said, helped Aberdeen retain its football budget at planned levels whilst income had not reached targets, in a time when rivals in Dundee, Edinburgh and elsewhere are cutting theirs.

He mentioned administration as a consequence of living beyond a club’s means. One imagines he had in mind Motherwell’s administration which now sees them in a European place in the SPL, having paid only a percentage of its creditors’ bills post-administration, with morally-suspect consequences for local suppliers. Or perhaps he was thinking of Hearts, where currently payment of staff wages seems to be a monthly option rather than a contractual obligation.

negative press and broadcast publicity from certain media outlets and individuals was difficult to counter

The manager told shareholders that if there were complaints about performance and league position, they should be addressed to him, as the board had accepted his every request for stretching the bounds of his budget, including the recruitment of full backs a year ago and the signings of Chalali, Fallon and Gonzalez.

The responsibility, quite clearly, was his.

On disciplinary issues, nobody disputed his analysis of the sendings off to date in 2011-12. He admitted that his orders to players not to appeal decisions may have cost them dearly and that referees may well “mistake kindness for softness”. Willie Miller conceded that football has radically changed in terms of tackling since he was the nemesis of strikers and that referees were now almost unable to leave unpenalised a “hard but fair tackle”. The big girlies.

The directors and manager agreed too that negative press and broadcast publicity from certain media outlets and individuals was difficult to counter but that the only alternative is to improve the playing record.

That sums it up. Whether or not they are shareholders, fans are only interested in the so-called “football operation”, business-speak for “fitba”. Home games can be held in surroundings replicating the Nou Camp or the old Linksfield, but we don’t care as long as the Reds are fighting like young tigers for the cause we share. We could have the best or worst corporate facilities in the whole of Scotland and it matters not a whit if we’re scoring one more than our opponents.

That was best illustrated by the largely-unexpected easy ride given to those in charge. We’ve just beaten St Johnstone and Hibs and have the good old collective sense of injustice on our side again, following some rather rum refereeing decisions.

Football fans don’t ask for much more, but one wonders if next year the club’s custodians will get it so easy if results remain the same and stadium development and other “non-football operation” activity takes over as priority.

Aug 292011

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.

Aug 202011

At long last, a goal and a win for the Dons – but they made hard work for themselves in a match they should have had wrapped up by the interval. Philip Sim reports from Pittodrie.

This was the classical game of two halves.

In the opening period Aberdeen were unplayable, zipping passes around, winning every 50-50 ball and racing forward at every opportunity.
Josh Magennis in particular was an absolute dynamo, running the Inverness defence ragged, and it was he who created Rob Milsom’s opening goal, which was greeted with relief bordering on delirium by the Pittodrie faithful.
Scott Vernon’s goal was well-taken too, although it was put on a plate for him by hapless Caley debutant Roman Golobart.

The Dons got a lucky break in referee Crawford Allan’s frankly bizarre decision to pull play back for an Inverness free-kick just as Jonny Hayes put the ball in the net, but on balance they were good value for their two-goal advantage at the interval and indeed could have scored a few more.

It seemed like a completely different Aberdeen team that came out for the second half. They seemed hesitant – nervous even.

Inverness did not have to fight particularly hard to find a way back into the game – indeed, they could have pulled a goal back earlier than they did. David Gonzalez seems to have a tendency to race out of his box after balls he can’t possibly get to, and only a fantastic sliding block from Ricky Foster spared the keeper’s blushes when he was lobbed by Hayes.

The big Colombian made amends with a couple of good stops from Foran and Hayes, but this only underlines the defensive frailties the Dons were displaying – Youl Mawene in particular had near enough ground to a halt. The Frenchman looked to be injured, always reaching for his hamstring, and he gifted Caley their goal when he chose to head the ball tamely into the path of Foran when it looked far easier to just boot it clear.

It was no surprise when he limped off to be replaced by McArdle, but if the change had been made earlier the Dons might have preserved their clean sheet.

Foran’s goal didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone at Pittodrie, as the Dons had looked increasingly tame after the rampant Magennis was withdrawn on 67 minutes for Megginson.

What the big Irishman lacks in touch and composure he more than makes up for in sheer enthusiasm and determination – he made the opening goal with his strength, pace and aggressive running. He is in a word unconventional – he is a nightmare to defend against, as you can never entirely sure what he’ll do next.

Once he had gone off, though, Megginson and Vernon struggled to hold the ball up at all, giving the defence and midfield little respite. Caley grew into the game and were camped in the Dons half throughout the agonising  final minutes.

Width was again a problem, with Brown persisting with his Tynecastle experiment of Fyvie and Milsom on the wings. Milsom put in a terrific shift and was well worth his goal, but he appears somewhat stifled out wide, always looking to cut inside and find space. The same was true of Fyvie, who looked off the pace throughout.

In contrast, Ricky Foster’s pace was electric, and on several occasions he burned past multiple opponents to set up chances for his side – indeed, at times he was frustrated that his team-mates couldn’t keep up with him as he surged forward.

He demonstrated  the value of having a proper wide player with pace – it can be a game-changer, and this is why Brown will be praying that he can get Peter Pawlett fit, and keep him fit.

With so few options on the flanks, the game was won in the middle of the park.

The credit for this has to go to Isaac Osbourne, easily the man of the match. He fought a 90-minute war of attrition with the entire Caley midfield, and a few of the Highlanders will be having nightmares about him tonight.

His hard work and tough tackling gave his partner Kari Arnason licence to play the ball, and the Icelander looked composed throughout as he sprayed passes around. It helps that he’s also a man-monster, albeit not quite on the Osbourne scale,  but it’s nigh on impossible to knock him off the ball.

So Aberdeen’s season is finally underway, and encouragingly they’re still not that far off the pace; the league table is yet to settle, with Motherwell sitting top prior to the visit of Rangers on Sunday, with Dunfermline and a resurgent St Mirren contesting the European places. 

At close of play on Saturday, traditional top-six challengers Hearts, Dundee United and Hibs all join the Dons in the bottom six, so there is not a huge amount of ground to make up. This win should hopefully kick-start the Dons’ league campaign, and build some momentum for the league cup tie with Dundee on Tuesday.

Aug 142011

It’s only August, and it seems like it’s been a very long season already. Another game gone, and once again the story is in the score line – particularly that “Aberdeen nil” part. Philip Sim reports.

You can’t argue with the league table; the goals for column remains bare, while an extra three are added to goals against. Only the continuing haplessness of Inverness Caley Thistle separates the Dons from the foot of the table, and that’s only on goal difference.

The strange thing is, Aberdeen actually dominated this game for much of the first half. Darren Mackie and Scott Vernon both threatened with headers, while the ever impressive Kari Arnason thumped the crossbar before drilling a shot from distance wide with Kello in the hosts’ goal scrambling.

The lack of a composed finishing touch was the crucial difference between the sides though, as Hearts seized their only two chances to somehow lead 2-0 at the interval.

Then, ten minutes into the second half, summer recruit John Sutton added his second and Hearts’ third, and killed the game. The Aberdeen defence switched off three times which allowed their opponents three shots on target, and the match was over.

For the remaining 35 minutes, nothing happened. Nothing at all. Hearts were happy enough to sit in their own half passing the ball back and forth, and Aberdeen appeared utterly unable to do anything about it. Whatever Brown did to change things up, however he shuffled the pack – including the introduction of Pawlett, Jack and Magennis – the Dons looked completely incapable of putting the ball in the net.

From the outset the visitors lacked width.

With monsters like Jonsson and Zaliukas at its heart, the home defence regard imposing target men as appetisers – and Aberdeen don’t even have one of those. Playing through the centre was highly unlikely to yield results, but with Fyvie and Milsom on the flanks and Rory McArdle at the right full-back position – all players far more comfortable in the centre – the only naturally wide player in the Dons side was Ricky Foster. By the time Pawlett was introduced at half time, the game was already lost.

The worrying thing is how short on excuses the Dons manager is running. This week saw the return of Mawene, Fyvie and Clark from injury and Ryan Jack from suspension, and for once the bench looked reasonably strong – Clark, Pawlett, Jack and Magennis representing players who could actually stand a chance of coming on and changing the game. In the end though, the effect was the same as the old bench of youngsters, in that the substitutes had no effect whatsoever.

This is not a time to just wait and hope the strikers suddenly click

Alright, so Tynecastle is a difficult place to go and pick up your first points of the season. Hearts have by far the third biggest budget in the league – no matter how unsustainable or hinged upon the whims of a madman it may be – and despite their recent poor form, were always favourites to win this game.

Aberdeen need to pick up a win and get their season started somewhere, and before they can get a win, believe it or not, they’re going to need to get at least one goal.

Craig Brown insists, publicly at least, that he’s happy with the strikers he has. Obviously there’s no point in shattering the already fragile confidence of the mis-firing front line, but this squarely where the team’s problem lies right now.

If you can’t put the ball in the net, you’re not going to win any games, no matter how strongly the rest of the team is set up. This is not a time to just wait and hope the strikers suddenly click.

Vernon and Mackie have started every game this term, and while it’s good for their confidence that the manager appears to have some faith in his chosen pairing, it’s becoming clear that he also has precious few other options. Josh Magennis has all the enthusiasm in the world, but he badly needs to work on his composure, and Michael Paton hasn’t scored a competitive goal since February 2010.

It’s a theme as repetitive as Aberdeen’s inability to score, but they really, really need to sign a striker. And next on the shopping list has to be a wide player, preferably left-footed, who can create chances as well as score some of his own…but of course, neither of these things grow on trees.

If the Dons can take anything from this match, it’s that the new away kit, on show for the first time, looks great. And…that’s about it. The next fixture, a home tie against bottom side Caley Thistle, is starting to look like a six-pointer already.

Aug 012011

The curse of Paisley strikes again. Saint Mirren have won just twelve games at their new stadium; a third of them have been against Aberdeen. Clearly this is not a happy hunting ground for the Dons, but it was the manner of Saturday’s defeat that was particularly disappointing. Philip Sim comments.

Last week’s stalemate with St Johnstone painted Aberdeen as a reasonably strong and well organised side which simply lacked a cutting edge in attack, and while they looked similarly toothless going forward here, the problems seemed much more deep-seated.

Josh Magennis and Scott Vernon both drew saves from Craig Sampson in the Buddies goal, but the Dons generally lacked imagination and indeed often struggled to get out of their own half.

St Mirren by contrast actually played some very good football.

They seem a much improved side this season, with Danny Lennon having recruited quality players in Paul McGowan, Gary Teale and strikers Steven Thompson and Nigel Hasselbaink. All four threatened in the first half without actually bringing a save from David Gonzalez, and while Hasselbaink scored the only goal of the game his side missed a host of chances to ram home their advantage.

Other than some flair and creativity going forward, what became painfully clear on Saturday is that Aberdeen still seriously lack squad depth. Fair enough the Dons were missing five potential starters in Fyvie, Mawene, Clark, Jack and Folly, but looking at the bench in Paisley the Dons lacked anyone who could come on and change the game. We’re only two games into the season, and already the squad seems to be down to bare bones, with unproven youngsters making up the bulk of the subs.

Injuries and suspensions are something that all teams need to be prepared to deal with, and on this weekend’s evidence Craig Brown needs to make several more signings before the Dons will be ready to really compete in the SPL.

The absence of Youl Mawene in particular was a blow against St Mirren, and while Kari Arnason filled in reasonably well, looking assured in all of his play, Brown would surely rather utilise his talents in midfield. The French defender has been dogged by injuries for most of his career, and it remains to be seen if he can last the rigours of the SPL.

If he’s missing games at this early stage of the season, how will he stand up to the new year schedule after the traditional call-offs which tends to cram six or seven games into a month?

The addition of Mawene, Arnason and Osbourne was meant to bring a bit of steel to the Dons, make them a tougher unit and a hard team to break down, but while only one goal separated the sides in this tie that was mainly down to the profligacy of the St Mirren front line. They created a host of chances, and Aberdeen seemed to lack any real fighting spirit – it just looked like St Mirren wanted the three points more than they did. Craig Brown and Archie Knox will strive to make sure that kind of performance is not repeated – if anyone can be trusted to put across that message, it’s Knox – but if the Dons are looking to bounce right back, the fixture list has not been kind.

In their next four games, Aberdeen will face last season’s top three in the Old Firm and Hearts, with the only consolation being a home tie against Inverness, currently goal-less and pointless and rooted firmly to the bottom of the SPL. That perhaps represents Aberdeen’s best chance of picking up a win, but Craig Brown will need to work on some new signings and more importantly the attitude of his current crop of players before three points or even a goal will become a reality.

But it is still very early doors, and the panic button shouldn’t be pushed just yet. There is the makings of a good team at Pittodrie, and with a couple of signings in key positions – up front, out wide and at full-back, in that order – we could yet see a successful season for the Dons. Get your little black book out, Craig.

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.