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.