Aug 082011

Three games into the SPL season, and Aberdeen are still to score. We’re not quite at the Andy Dow stage yet – the man who famously scored the Dons’ first goal of the 1999/2000 season in late September, during their seventh consecutive defeat – but it’s certainly starting to feel like it. Philip Sim reports from Pittodrie. 

Despite the continuing abject lack of joy up front, this was actually quite a spirited performance from the men in red. It was a vast improvement not only on last week’s capitulation in Paisley, but also on every encounter with Celtic last season.

We have been assured repeatedly through the close season that Craig Brown was building a team which wouldn’t fall apart when faced by Celtic, who averaged more than five goals a game against the Dons last term. The cumulative score across the season was 21-1.

This should not be the case this year; while Aberdeen may have lost this match, at the very least they went down fighting.

One feature of last season which did crop up was one of Mark McGhee’s constant post-match refrains, of individual errors costing games. Had Ricky Foster not been caught in possession by Kris Commons – the very man Aberdeen captain had succeeded in subduing for the previous 73 minutes – the game seemed destined for a goalless stalemate. The Dons had looked resolute, sitting extremely deep but refusing to be broken down.

Right up to the goal you could almost physically see the confidence of the Aberdeen players grow, as they began to break out of their own half and start to compete at the other end, but they were seriously deflated by the goal.

The Dons had been chasing the game so, so hard. Osbourne and Milsom ran their hearts out in the centre of the park, always chasing and harrying, never giving their opponents a quiet moment. Arnason and Considine both looked solid and assured at centre half, and indeed while the stats will show a large number of Celtic attempts on goal, the majority of them were hopeful efforts from distance which rarely troubled Gonzalez.

Once the goal had gone in and the legs had begun to tire, another familiar problem kicked in for the home side. Squad depth.

Once again the bench was staffed entirely with inexperienced youngsters, offering little chance for Brown to change the game with a substitution. Meanwhile, almost a full bench of first-teamers was sat at the back of the main stand in Langfield, Clark, Folly, Fyvie, Jack and Mawene, and while their return can’t come quick enough, Craig Brown still needs to sign a creative attacker. Someone who can change games.

Peter Pawlett had his moments once again and is undoubtedly a huge talent

While industry was no problem for the Dons attack, with Mackie, Magennis and Pawlett running themselves into the ground, it still seems to lack a cutting edge. Scott Vernon proved himself to be a good finisher last season, but all too often here he was left in a fruitless aerial battle against Celtic’s mastodonic captain for the day, Majstorovic.

Whenever he tried to bring the ball down and hold it up, he found himself besieged by hooped jerseys, and ultimately Aberdeen had no release point.

Vernon is at his best when he’s playing facing the opposition goal, alongside an energetic, creative player who can make chances for both of them. He needs service, but it’s hard to see where that is going to come from in the current Aberdeen team. Peter Pawlett had his moments once again and is undoubtedly a huge talent, but the entire burden cannot be laid at his door – the youngster spent most of last season sidelined with injury, and can’t be expected to carry the team just yet.

Craig Brown’s most likely avenue of recruitment is to snap up loan players who don’t make the cut for English Premiership squads, but those squads won’t be decided until the end of the month. Can Aberdeen afford to write off the rest of the month without a real goal-scoring threat, trusting that the rest of the pack won’t build up an insurmountable a points tally?

The last word on the latest in what is becoming a long line of defeats actually against Celtic roughly mirrors the outlook from the opening match against St Johnstone – quite a solid, spirited performance, but disappointed not to have taken more from the game. Once again, against the context of last season’s horrors, it’s a recipe for cautious optimism.

Dec 032010

So, another one bites the dust…The cycle continues… Sack. Hire. Don’t back. Fire.
Put that to a 120BPM scratch beat and you’ve got a rap smash. Shall we say 20%?

Angry and Frustrated of .com (OK, OK, it’s resident fitba curmudgeon David Innes) gives his take on this week’s everyday tale of Pittodrie folk.

This time it’s Mark McGhee, brought to the club in June 2009 to “take us to the next level”. Was he capable? We’ll never know, for once again, we’ll be doling out a considerable six figure sum to bin a management team rather than allocate it to where it’s most needed – the playing budget.

With £400,000 at his disposal, I’m sure McGhee would have had us far higher up the table than we are. What we can almost guarantee is that having spent what appears to be over £2 million in compensating both Jimmies and Sandy Clark, weighing in with a wedge to prise Dingus from Fir Park and now filling his and the bank accounts of Leitch and Meldrum, we won’t be spending on contractual compensation when it comes to hiring this time.

Where does that leave us? Pretty much with those who are not in meaningful full-time club employment and who won’t need their clubs compensating. John Hughes? Binned by Hibs for a horrendous start to the season – would he do any better here? Billy Stark? Relegated St Johnstone and manages under-21 loons for fewer than ten games per year. Gordon Strachan – I think he wants to stay as far away from football as possible. That might of course make him a contender, since there’s not been much coincident with the finer points of the game at AB24 5QH in the past few years.

I had high hopes for Mark. His introductory press conference oozed ambition. He didn’t want to start the season droning the losers’ mantra about finishing third. He wanted to challenge “them”, he wanted to use home-reared players to add energy and spark to a squad and if necessary sell them on to allow purchase of others for the overall good of the squad. Hard-bitten hacks were almost in tears and I swear that Willie Miller was behind the scenes manipulating a C90 cassette tape as the haunting melodies of The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen and Jerusalem played softly in the background. Maybe I made up that last bit.

Given that he inherited a squad decimated by transfers – Nicholson, Severin, Hart, Clark – and had no time to get replacements signed before the transfer window closed last season, McGhee was forgiven by those who actually think about the situation if not by those whose first instinct is to replace the manager. In summer 2010, he signed a formidable number of players, some of whom have been successes – Folly, Hartley and Vernon – and others who have found it more difficult to match their skills to the SPL. November’s been a torrid month. Apart from the results, the injury list has not eased and there have been key suspensions. The squad must currently number around 18, and the average squad age cannot be much more than that.

Hicham Zerouali lit up the SPL with his outrageous fitba conjuring act

I’m not making excuses, I’m just pointing out that those who make the decisions have panicked and followed the only path they know, with little thought, it seems, given to where we go now. They have failed to match the manager’s ambition, and he’s the fall guy.

Ten years ago, we endured the depths of despair as Ebbe Skovdahl’s first season saw us finish bottom of the SPL, even though we reached both cup finals and experienced some thrills as the likes of the late Hicham Zerouali lit up the SPL with his outrageous fitba conjuring act. As we gnashed our teeth, our families’ teeth, the teeth of close friends and neighbours, we were promised that the new post-Bosman reality had kicked in and that the Dons were at the forefront in pioneering a new financial model which would match wages to hard facts economics and that we would outstrip our high-spending, deep-in-debt rivals as they too had to change.

Well, since then we’ve had the misery of bottom six finishes, harrowing cup defeats, dreadful football, some of the worst players in my forty five years supporting the Dons wear the sacred red and a litany of managers who have not counted among their abilities the skills necessary to turn base metal or straw into gold, or even silverware. Those profligate rivals occupy the ten places above us in the SPL.

There have been two constants during this time – the Board of Directors and the club’s continuing willingness to soak the fans for ever-higher admission prices with improvement neither to the standard of football nor the club’s position.

Imagine, if you will, we had, say, a leading builder on the board, would he continue to charge the same or higher prices for his houses during a recession and a dip in demand? If, perchance, a couple of international financial investment gurus were on our board, do you think that they would fail to speculate to accumulate when they returned from the board lunch to manage their clients’ investment portfolios?

Other opinions are available, but mine is right.

Jul 232010

Pittodrie StadiumBy Dave Innes.

Doom, gloom, despondency and rumours of four dodgy-looking jockeys riding over the Broad Hill are prevalent among some Dons fans on websites and in the city’s bijou cafes since the nail-biting end to last season. The weekend’s 3-1 defeat by Fraserburgh did nothing but add to the inevitable white noise of supporter anguish. Continue reading »