It’s time to go again…

It’s time to go again…

At one o’clock on Saturday afternoon, the narrative was slightly different. Enjoying a crisp cold pint outside a pub just a short walk from the stadium, a few of us were cautiously optimistic in our assertions. All we wanted was a good performance and to be in it with 20 minutes to go. That was all we had asked for.

As I write this, more than 72 hours have passed since the full-time whistle was sounded by Bobby Madden and, while the dust is beginning to settle, it’s still difficult to absorb. We got what we asked for but the reality was that we came close to so much more.

I don’t plan on trying to break down the game in any great detail because we all saw it. Derek McInnes had gotten his tactics right, we frustrated the overwhelming favourites and the team played out of their skins. We just couldn’t sustain the intensity for the full 90 minutes, which is completely understandable given just how much energy had been poured into the performance.

As the torrential rain started, the Aberdeen faithful might have been forgiven for thinking that there were hints of Gothenburg about the occasion. When you’ve been through so much as a supporter and invested so much of your life into it, whether that be financially or emotionally, you think about these things. We question whether fate might exist in the sport that we love so dearly and ponder whether it’s our time.

However, on this occasion it wasn’t. The ending was utterly cruel but that’s life and that’s football. Every one of us who had held up a piece of card or a flag with unbridled enthusiasm before the game was inconsolable afterwards. That sinking feeling when the silence hits, when it’s confirmed that it isn’t your day, is almost indescribable.

But once the wounds are healed, hope can return and so will the excitement. With the exit of five first team players confirmed today, Aberdeen now have the opportunity to rebuild and start a new chapter. In order to do that, the club must consistently try to better itself.

It would be naive to discredit the size of the task facing the board and the management team over the summer but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t reason to be optimistic. The Dons will enter the Europa League for a fourth consecutive season and Derek McInnes has the chance to source fresh talent to complement an existing core group that has served us well over the past few years.

The positive culture and philosophy which has been shaped at the club over the past four years can be consolidated and the support can move forward knowing that ultimately the most important thing is Aberdeen. Players come and go but the soul, spirit and tradition that we are renowned for remains consistent. It is timeless.

Perhaps it’s time to stop fretting that this could be the end of the good times and instead realise that the good times have well and truly returned. The progress that Aberdeen has shown year upon year since 2013 will only continue when we eventually secure a new stadium and training facility.

We haven’t gone as far as we can. If the management team are given the backing and support they require, there will be more opportunities to add to the silverware, to progress to the Europa League group stages and to enjoy the dismantling of Scottish Premiership opposition.

That feeling of despondency that accompanied the Red Army as they trudged out of Hampden was temporary.

All it takes is time to reflect and realise that we went the distance in a heavyweight bout, and will be ready to go again in July.

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Aberdeen’s end of season player ratings 2016/17

Aberdeen’s end of season player ratings 2016/17

As seen on The Terrace


Reflecting on a season, which started at the end of June last year and came to a heart-wrenching head on Saturday afternoon, is no straightforward affair. The emotional impact of a finely contested Scottish Cup final is still raw for supporters but it does not curtail what has ultimately been an impressive campaign for Aberdeen.

There have been highs; a record finish of 76 points, a win at Ibrox for the first time in 26 years and several thrashings of Scottish Premiership opposition. However, with those hypnotic moments of euphoria comes the odd low as well; exiting the Europa League to a beatable Maribor, failing to lay a glove on Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final and lastly coming so close to hurting Brendan Rodgers’ side on the rain-drenched surface of a sold-out Hampden stadium. Some individuals were key protagonists, others were peripheral figures but they all played a part in the story of the 2016/17 season.

GOALKEEPERS

Joe Lewis – 8

Few would have anticipated this signing working out so well but it has and thank goodness. Rarely has Lewis made a mistake, securing 14 clean sheets throughout the campaign. The goalkeeper is reliable, confident at taking crosses, a comfortable distributor and capable of making those game-defining saves. His communication skills were evident from day one in his debut against Fola Esch, and Aberdeen’s defence has benefitted from his experience. A contract extension should be a priority.

Neil Alexander – N/A

The understudy has yet to make a single competitive appearance, emphasising just how consistent Lewis has been.

DEFENDERS

Andy Considine – 6

He had supporters dancing and singing to Sweet Considine (to the tune of ‘Sweet Caroline’) at Dens Park after netting a career first hat-trick the day before his 30th birthday. The left-back has had a relatively consistent season, marred only by occasional blips against the likes of Celtic and Rangers. It’s testament to his own hard work that Derek McInnes no longer sees the position as an area that needs strengthened.

Shay Logan – 7

The self-proclaimed ‘fox in the box’ has enjoyed a good season, solid defensively and plays his part going forward. Partial to a chop or a Cruyff, the defender is remarkably skilled on the ball, and is even capable of popping up with a goal every now and then. Hence the nickname. His most important strike was the late goal against Ross County, which sent Aberdeen on their Scottish Cup run.

Callum Morris – N/A

Why? Just, why?

Anthony O’Connor – 5

Occasionally deployed in defensive midfield, O’Connor seems more of a defender than a midfielder. He can tackle, sometimes. He’s relatively composed on the ball. He gets the odd goal at set plays. But looking at this season’s evidence, it can’t be said concretely that he is a better option than Mark Reynolds or Ash Taylor. Just as the other two, he has his moments and, therefore, the jury is still out.

Mark Reynolds – 5

Gordon Strachan included the centre-back in his latest Scotland squad, suggesting that Gordon Strachan probably doesn’t watch Aberdeen games. Reynolds has been poor for about two years now, contributing to defensive frailties that Derek McInnes has yet to address. His only saving grace is perhaps that this season he was probably marginally less bad than last.

Ash Taylor – 5

Taylor is set to leave Pittodrie and it’s with the vast majority of the Aberdeen support’s blessing. In his first season with the club, he was dominant and looked like a rock that could be built upon. Since then he has gotten progressively worse, producing those Ash Taylor moments in important fixtures that provoke a cacophony of profanity from the stands. Oh well, he’s someone else’s problem now.

MIDFIELDERS

Ryan Christie – 7

But Del, can we keep him? Seven goals in 15 appearance, including that exquisite chip against Motherwell and, of course, we can’t forget the header at Ibrox. The midfielder has been a brilliant creative outlet with his ability to carry the ball at pace, completely glued to his boot. He’s also shown the willingness to do something different, as highlighted perfectly by his opportunistic free-kick against Hibs in the Scottish-Cup semi-final. McInnes ought to ask the question of Rodgers, but only time will tell if he will.

Jonny Hayes – 8

Leading the Scottish Premiership assist charts with 15 this season, Hayes has had another fantastic season. He is loved at Pittodrie because he has both the work ethic and the final product, and when he gets going, there is no fullback in the league that can get to grips with him. Whether it’s the blistering pace or the nous to drag defenders inside and then out, he has been one of the strongest performers in the league and was recognised by his peers with a nomination for PFA Scotland Player of the Year.

Ryan Jack – 4

The former captain’s strengths are in his ball retention and neat passing ability but rarely, if at all, throughout the last two seasons, has Jack seemed irreplaceable. While supporters would be disappointed if he signed for Rangers, they recognise that he probably wouldn’t strengthen their side dramatically. Why? Because, there isn’t a great deal to his game. He can’t really tackle or make lung-bursting runs, he doesn’t score goals and when he comes toe-to-toe with Scott Brown, he often goes quiet.

Niall McGinn – 7

Another who will leave the club as Aberdeen face a summer of transition, McGinn’s contributions over the last five years can’t go unnoticed. Despite not being the quickest, his capability as a winger has not been hampered. The drop of the shoulder and ability to cross on either foot mean that he’s shown again this season just why he is so important to the team. He has consistently created and scored goals, and therefore needs replaced. It’s an unenviable task for McInnes and one he really needs to get right.

Kenny McLean – 8

It’s been the former St Mirren man’s finest season in a red shirt, as he benefitted from James Maddison’s decision to stay South of the Border in January. Traditionally used at the point of the midfield triumvirate, the full range of McLean’s passing became more and more evident as the season developed. His ability to choose the right ball at speed is key to Aberdeen’s direct counter-attacking style. Additionally, he has improved his aggression and tackling, growing from a supporting character to an influential figure in the side.

James Maddison – 7

He will always have a place in the hearts of the support after scoring that goal but the midfielder on-loan from Norwich caused a bit of debate. He showed a natural gift for the game with vision and flair that would get people on their feet but at points it felt as though he was being shoe-horned into a side that didn’t have a space for him. This came at a cost in the League Cup final when he operated on the left, drifting inside time and time again. As a result, Celtic’s attack was afforded the opportunity to double up on Considine and wreak havoc. In a system so focused on performing as a team and not neglecting defensive responsibilities, Maddison was an anomaly and at times it didn’t work.

Peter Pawlett – 5

As Aberdeen have improved season upon season, the team has outgrown certain players and Pawlett is the latest casualty. He is a good player and throughout the campaign, has been useful coming off the bench but he has rightfully made the decision to try his luck elsewhere. He has shown that he can still impact games with his pace but has struggled to break into a midfield that ultimately picks itself.

Frank Ross – 4

Promising stuff in glimpses. McInnes has proven to be cautious in his offering of minutes to young players, so it’s still too early to tell how he will develop.

Graeme Shinnie – 9

Embodies everything football fans want out of a player. Aggressive, fiery, impassioned, tidy in possession and overflowing with drive. Strong in the tackle but equally adept at ball carrying, Shinnie is just a few goals shy of being the complete midfielder. His performance as he wore the captain’s armband in the 2-1 win at Ibrox was simply superb, and for me he has been Aberdeen’s standout performer this season.

FORWARDS

Wes Burns – 3

Carried the aura of an individual with a sense of entitlement. A young player who came to Scotland, known to McInnes from his time at Bristol City, confident of running the show. Initially events fed his ego, as he came off the bench to score on his debut against Ventspils in the Europa League. Other than that, he showed a bit of potential against Ayr United but failed to make a lasting impact before leaving.

Adam Rooney – 7

The striker hit 20 goals for a third consecutive season, memorably netting a hat-trick in the 7-2 rout of Mark McGhee. He’s just about useless outside of the penalty area but it doesn’t matter because Rooney’s had another season where he’s sclaffed in his usual bucketload of tap-ins and penalties. That’s what we need him for.

Jayden Stockley – 5

Elbows. It’s his thing. The target man was signed as a different option up top but has worryingly received three red cards, all for roughly the same sort of thing. Scored a delicious lob against Partick Thistle and turned a game at Rugby Park on its head, so it’s not been all bad. But will he stay at the club beyond next season? Probably not.

Miles Storey – 3

Hasn’t played and is potentially overweight. Mutual termination imminent.

Scott Wright – 6

Seems a bit crass to give the youngster a similar or better rating to those who have had significantly more game time but he deserves it. He’s a prospect, who has always looked bright when coming off the bench then he got his second competitive start against Partick Thistle and the rest is history. His display showed that we could have a real player on our hands. Prepared to run at defenders and skilful enough to glide beyond them, Wright was clinical and scored a lovely hat-trick. It was a strange reminder that we do actually have a youth system.

MANAGER

Derek McInnes – 8

He’s not perfect but it’s been another great season for McInnes. He has addressed last season’s failures in the cups, and we have competed in two finals with the second of the two almost going exactly to plan after he got his tactics right. However, the decision to replace Niall McGinn with Anthony O’Connor, as the game entered a crucial stage, was a nod to one of his flaws. McInnes is guilty of making strange substitutions and also making them at the wrong time, as was conveyed by his decision to bring a more attacking player in Scott Wright on when it was too late.

That aside, he has inspired a side to play some breathtaking football, creating some really enjoyable moments for the support throughout the season whether that be the victories over Rangers or the dismantling of certain opposition. He is reportedly being considered to replace David Moyes at Sunderland and it is a worry how heavily Aberdeen’s success may well hinge on the current manager. He won’t be at Pittodrie forever but hopefully he gives us one more season to regroup and make provisional plans for the next chapter in the club’s history.

The Achilles’ heel: 5 defensive lapses that show Aberdeen have work to do

It truly was a moment of inspiration. Jonny Hayes weaved into the pockets of space vacated by Celtic outside the penalty area and unleashed a howitzer to pull Aberdeen back into the game. His teammates responded and played with desire and intensity, putting the champions on the backfoot for the majority of the game. Ultimately, however, the efforts were undermined by defensive frailties that continue to show up time and time again.

The crux of the matter is that if Aberdeen are to have any chance of beating Celtic in the Scottish Cup final, Derek McInnes must address this Achilles’ heel. With this in mind, we take a look at five lapses from yesterday evening that highlight the extent of the team’s problem.

Considine v Roberts

Despite being one of the team’s most consistent performers for almost three seasons now, one fixture that hasn’t historically favoured Andy Considine is the clash with Celtic. Neither side had so much as broken a sweat before Roberts was able to exploit the fullback’s poor positioning. The simple explanation is that Considine had no idea where the winger was.

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It appears he was preoccupied with the thought of leaving too much space between himself and Reynolds, but had Considine glanced over his shoulder he would have realised Roberts, a significantly quicker player, had managed to gain a chunk of ground on him.

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Once Callum McGregor had released an inch perfect pass, Considine was in two minds as to whether to try and intercept or retreat towards goal. By this point, Roberts was clean through and had to be denied by Joe Lewis, who narrowed the angle well.

Taylor v Boyata

The first of several occasions during the 90 minutes that Ash Taylor couldn’t get to grips with Dedryck Boyata would prove costly. The Celtic defender checked away from goal before looping his run towards the back post to meet Leigh Griffiths’ corner unchallenged.

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It was a simple move that outfoxed a cumbersome Taylor. The centre-back needed to be tighter to the Belgian and get his own body between Boyata and the goal. This type of scenario at set pieces has become synonymous with Taylor’s playing style and has many supporters calling for him not to be awarded a new contract.

Stuart Armstrong’s tap-in 

The second goal epitomised some of the defending that has previously resulted in collapses against both Celtic and Rangers this season. A catalogue of errors occur in a ten second period, as a hopeful long ball results in Reynolds crossing with Considine rather than the pair switching men. Reynolds then gets sucked out to the wing by Griffiths, who completely embarrasses him with a deft nutmeg. Taylor does well to read the pass but can’t get enough power on his clearance. A lack of communication between Lewis and Shay Logan means that the latter attempts to intervene when it appears unnecessary, leaving Armstrong the opportunity to take advantage and make it 2-0 with just eight minutes on the clock.

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Griffiths holds off Reynolds and Taylor 

Firstly, it must be recognised in this instance that Boyata is allowed to waltz forward into the Aberdeen half under no pressure from the midfield and pick out his teammate with another ball that travels considerable distance along the ground. Reynolds attempts to confront Griffiths with no real aggression or conviction before passing him on to Taylor, who seemingly loses track of where the ball actually is. This is sadly exactly the type of behaviour that has come to define his Aberdeen career. The Celtic striker is then allowed to pick out a shot when really he has no right to given that two players had attempted to put him off. The effort, while cleanly hit, should have been dealt with by Lewis but it’s difficult to harbour too much ill-feeling towards the goalkeeper, who made several saves on the night and has had a fine season. 11 minutes on the clock and 3-0 down.

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Reynolds offends again

A direct throw from Mikael Lustig again exposes Aberdeen’s marking. Niall McGinn is caught on the wrong side of Tom Rogic, thus allowing the Australian to make a mockery of Reynolds by casually flicking the ball over his leg. The defender looks weary of conceding a penalty, so rather than go toe-to-toe with Celtic’s attacking midfielder he pirouettes away from him and hopes that his half-hearted attempt to make contact with the ball gains traction. Unsurprisingly it doesn’t and Lewis has to react smartly to prevent a fourth.

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It must be said that Aberdeen’s catastrophic defensive performance was not restricted to these five incidents, but rather I have identified just some of the themes that have been prevalent when our backline has completely switched off.

There is no doubt that we are a fine attacking side with verve and confidence when playing to our full potential but if the Dandies are to have anything to cheer about on the 27th May, the team has to be much more structured and resolute when defending. If we manage this and attack on the front foot as we did from the 12th minute yesterday, then we might just have a chance at silverware this season.

Tony Docherty – The man behind Derek McInnes

Tony Docherty – The man behind Derek McInnes

The Aberdeen support could barely miss the glaring irony when Tony Docherty was called up to the Scotland set-up to replace the outgoing Andy Watson.

Complaints of a ‘west coast bias’ might have been forged in the Ferguson era but they certainly haven’t eased with the passing of time. We are convinced, whether rightly or wrongly, that the club is overlooked by the Glasgow-centric press, by players that prefer plying their trade in the comforts of the central belt and, finally, by those in charge of the national team.

Despite being the Dons’ finest performer this season, it was a no to Kenny McLean. Similarly, Graeme Shinnie was overlooked, even though his bite and drive would surely be a breath of fresh air for the Scotland team. Ryan Jack’s composure on the ball and ability to transition defence into attack might even have seen him stake a claim but, alas, it was not to be.

Instead, it was the club’s assistant manager who was to be given the nod. Tony Docherty is a name that would likely have Scottish football supporters in the central region scratching their heads. But it is a name showing burgeoning progress in the world of coaching.

Derek McInnes grew close with Docherty when the former was captain at Dundee United, and the latter was the team’s reserve coach. Upon stepping into management, McInnes would take Docherty to St Johnstone, and then south to Bristol City before they both returned north to Aberdeen in 2013.

McInnes clearly trusts his assistant. Docherty leads the pre-match passing exercises, while the manager observes his players. The squad responds to Doch’s shouts to increase the tempo, they laugh at his quips, and they appear fond of his humble demeanour.

As his profile has increased, he has taken on more responsibility in press conferences and post-match interviews. He is articulate and insightful.

Ayr United manager Ian McCall worked with Docherty at Falkirk before taking him to Dundee United and he hasn’t been at all surprised by his development.

“He had something that you can’t learn anywhere at the coaching courses, as much as I think they’re great. He’s got this really infectious personality that brings people to him,” he said.

“I’ve only met five or six boys like that in my long time in football. It’s a very special quality and he’s got it in abundance.”

McCall cited Docherty’s upbringing in a “fantastic family” in East Kilbride as partly responsible for the path his career has taken. He had a modest playing career in the lower leagues with the likes of Stirling Albion and Albion Rovers. During his time in Coatbridge, he would put his first step on the coaching ladder by joining the SFA as a development officer.

But what is he like behind the scenes on the training ground?

“He was always very, very well organised, and almost anal in his preparation of things,” McCall admitted.

Former Aberdeen midfielder Stuart Duff worked with the pair at Dundee United and shared McCall’s perspective.

“He gets very involved in the training,” explained Duff. “He does quite a lot of the drills himself. He’s there early setting them up. He’ll see the weakness of a team that they’ll play on a Saturday and they’ll work on things.”

“If they’re poor at defending crosses, Tony will work on getting the ball out wide where they can cause problems. He’s very tactically aware.”

But for McCall and Duff, it’s not the technical coaching that has served Docherty so well. It’s his ability to interact almost flawlessly with the players.

“I think that’s secondary to what he is,” said McCall. “I genuinely believe that. I think he’s got on because of this quality he has that you can’t teach. You don’t learn it anywhere. You either have it or you haven’t and he has it. He was very reliable and very loyal.”

Duff admitted he was impressed with Docherty from day one at Dundee United.

“Around the stadium, he demands respect but he’s not arrogant. He’s approachable, he’s well-mannered and well-spoken.”

Initially, Docherty’s main role was with young players, because of an ability to cultivate talent. His commitment was reflected in the hours he put in at work with both Falkirk and Dundee United.

“He’s more than willing to stay behind after sessions and help out with the younger kids, and he’s definitely got an eye for talent,” said Duff. “He’s very good at nurturing young talent and getting the best out of them.”

Footballers of all ages gravitate towards the coach. But, what does the future hold for him? This is the point where two of his biggest supporters disagree.

“If I’m brutally honest,” McCall pondered. “I don’t think he’s a manager. I’m not sure he would agree with that.

“I think wherever Derek goes, and I think there will come a time when he goes, I don’t think that’ll be in Scotland though, I think Tony will go with him. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”

Duff’s prediction differed significantly.

“There will come a time when he wants to push on and do his own thing. It’s been pleasing to see that he’s been given more opportunities to put himself out there because he’s well-respected within the game.

“Anyone that knows a lot about football will know how well-regarded he is and it’s no surprise that he’s involved with the national team.

“He’s got a very bright future ahead of him.”

The Aberdeen faithful are resigned to the notion that Derek McInnes will eventually leave the Pittodrie club. They know to savour the stability, professionalism and sustained success.

But perhaps one thing they did not fully expect was that Tony Docherty’s role in creating the culture that currently exists at the club is perhaps more than has been anticipated.

If Gordon Strachan survives a little longer, he might well become just as important to the Scotland set-up.

Simple tactics and international standard players: Aberdeen 2-0 Hearts

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Prior to Ian Cathro taking charge at Hearts, Aberdeen’s record against the Edinburgh side was unenviable. With just two wins out of six against the previous regime, it seemed that Robbie Neilson was well aware of how to approach the task at hand. His team did so with physicality and a desire to spoil encounters and, as the statistics indicate, more often than not it worked.

The 90 minutes towards the end of December, however, suggested something entirely different. It wasn’t a young manager with a fresh approach but rather a team that seemed to be suffering an identity crisis. Given that Cathro and his assistant Austin MacPhee were still implementing their own philosophy it was understandable. But as the season enters its final nine league games it is clear that Hearts have yet to grasp their footballing identity under this inexperienced coaching team.

Yesterday it proved to be much to the benefit of Aberdeen, who as a team are very aware of their strengths, but what specifically did we recognise in what was another comfortable victory?

Simple tactics can be the most effective

From the first whistle it was evident how Derek McInnes had instructed his side to play. The team pressed quickly, scrapped to win the ball back and immediately looked to put it into wide areas.

Aberdeen have always been a team that will look to get the ball into the box as early and consistently as possible. Cathro and McPhee must have known that this was how the home side would approach the game but did not organise their defence in order to combat the threat.

It took just 21 minutes for a teasing McGinn cross to be fired home by one of the shortest players on the pitch. Shay Logan had managed to peel away from the back post and ghost in between Hearts’ flat-footed defenders without so much as an acknowledgement from Lennard Sowah that he even existed.

The second goal highlighted the benefit of relentless pressing. Alexandros Tziolis was rushed into retreating and returning the ball to Tasos Avlonitis. The defender panicked with Jonny Hayes bearing down on him and couldn’t get enough purchase on his pass to Jack Hamilton, allowing the winger to add a second.

Kenny McLean is an international footballer

The midfielder was outstanding yet again. Whether it was driving forward with the ball, fizzing a pass into feet or showing the nous to open up play, Kenny McLean was utterly dominant. The former St. Mirren player seems to finally be growing into the role that McInnes intended for him and is an integral part of the current first eleven.

Much has been made of his exclusion from the latest Scotland squad and rightly so. McLean has added tenacity to his game, meaning that he is no longer a player limited to some tidy touches. His range of passing and ability to test the goalkeeper from distance, coupled with everything else, suggest that he has the ability to be the complete midfielder on the international stage.

Graeme Shinnie is the heartbeat of the team

Graeme Shinnie’s presence at the base of the midfield alongside Ryan Jack has proven invaluable. Don Cowie and Tziolis, in particular, are players that need time on the ball in order to properly impact proceedings, something that they were never going to get with Shinnie on the pitch.

His energy is paramount to how Aberdeen approach games, setting a standard for his teammates to follow. Shinnie’s style of play was epitomised during the first half when he won a header on the edge of the opposition area before hassling Cowie into submission with a crunching tackle.

In our two matches against Cathro’s Hearts this season, Shinnie has been a focal point of the team’s tactical approach. The player has quite simply been a linchpin of the team since arriving from Inverness.

A sense of closure: Aberdeen 7-2 Motherwell

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Few Aberdeen supporters, if any, will forget the feeling as they watched their club capitulate at the hands of Celtic in November 2010. Dread, humiliation and uncertainty were prevalent as we questioned the future of our club under a man who had once been considered a great.

Mark McGhee was that man. There were no apologies. Instead the support was subject to exaggerated statements of self-promotion that further strained a relationship growing increasingly beyond repair. It was just three points after all, and despite one of the club’s most embarrassing results in history McGhee considered himself ‘completely comfortable’ in the job.

The former player, appointed to breathe excitement into a product that had long been stale, was eventually sacked following a characteristically limp defeat to Kilmarnock. The club may well have since secured stability and a period of sustained success under Derek McInnes but the wounds from that day have taken a long time to heal. Last night’s performance went some way to providing what can almost be described as a symbolic sense of closure.

Don’t get me wrong, the support has moved on from McGhee’s disastrous tenure. However, the opportunity to inflict considerable ridicule on a man that systematically took apart the club’s reputation was inevitably welcomed upon his return to management with Motherwell.

This is an individual who, despite his failures, has consistently landed on his feet because of his contacts rather than any ounce of managerial ability. In the process he has regularly criticised the club in a desperate attempt to excuse his failure and simultaneously massage his hurting ego.

He famously told The Herald following his departure, “I’m sitting here not because I’m a bad manager but because I made a bad decision. I will never, unless it’s in a professional capacity, look in the direction of Aberdeen again. Any association I had with them ended the day I walked out.”

There is an amusing irony when reflecting on those words against the backdrop of yesterday evening. The truth is that McGhee was and is a bad manager, on a number of levels.

During his time at Pittodrie it became evident that he lacked man management skills. The trajectory of Sone Aluko’s career since leaving Aberdeen clearly highlights that there was more to his ability than he was willing to show under McGhee. Mark Kerr, while by no means innocent during the club’s downturn in form, reportedly questioned how he had managed to turn a team competing for top six football and European qualification into an outfit battling relegation.

At the time, Aberdeen undoubtedly had a group of players that lacked professionalism but McGhee’s stubborn arrogance left the club in shards that would ultimately take years to piece back together.

Since his return to the Scottish Premiership, the club has enjoyed moderate success against Motherwell but the support has not yet had the opportunity to truly achieve retribution.

In the interview with The Herald, his disdain for the support only grew clearer, “You get other people who suck the life out of a room. Aberdeen is full of people who are drainers. Until it’s cleared out and there’s a freshness about it, it’s not going to get any better. And no-one, not even Craig Brown, who’s a good manager can do anything until they change that.”

There may well have been elements of truth about the group of players at that time but McGhee’s comments clearly ran deeper than the squad. He had an axe to grind with everyone at the club from the support to the staff at each level of the institution.

“The girl at the desk couldn’t look me in the eye,” he added. The fact that McGhee didn’t know the club receptionist’s name or title is perhaps more telling.

Apparently life at Pittodrie wasn’t to improve either. Such assertions proved inaccurate and yesterday’s explosive attacking performance captured how far Aberdeen have come since his departure.

Simply by playing assertive football at a high tempo, Motherwell were dismantled at an alarming rate. Aberdeen showed quality on the ball, desire off it and a swagger that confirmed they were in the mood to inflict considerable damage.

At 6-0, the support had aspirations of replicating the score line that they suffered from seven years ago but it was not to be. However, the ruthless embarrassment of blitzing seven goals past a chaotic Motherwell defence proved effective in purging the memories.

The support was even treated to some comedy as McGhee was sent to the stand in a blind rage, despite later alleging that he ‘was having a bit of a laugh.’

It was a thoroughly deserved evening for a club and support that suffered much under Mark McGhee’s guidance.

And who knows, there might be opportunity to do it all again next Month.

Stick or twist? (Heart of Midlothian vs Aberdeen)

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The statistics don’t exactly bode well as we go into an another important clash at Tynecastle tonight, with Hearts unbeaten in their last four meetings against Aberdeen, but this evening represents a clear opportunity to end the year on a high.

It often seemed that Robbie Neilson understood how to play against Derek McInnes’ side, focusing on a direct style of play while ensuring his team won the physical battle. However, with the appointment of Ian Cathro it is likely that Hearts find themselves on a different tactical trajectory. The young coach has already made it known that he wants an expansive brand of football, concentrated on possession and controlling games.

Arguably, this will suit ourselves. If Hearts approach tonight’s match with a desire to play positively, inevitably opportunities will arise for Aberdeen to expose a fragile defence on the counter-attack. That said, we are reliant on two things: a sensible team selection and a well-executed performance.

The Back Four

Unsurprisingly, we have recently seen a change in the playing personnel across the back with Mark Reynolds coming in to accompany Ash Taylor at centre-back and Andy Considine going out to left-back. McInnes is still uncertain of his best pairing at the heart of the defence and I doubt I’m the only one hoping for a sustained effort from the manager in the January window to rectify this.

Ultimately there is no solution to the issue with the current crop of defenders. Granted the decision from Bobby Madden to award a penalty against Reynolds at Fir Park was harsh, but the defender put himself in an unfavourable situation with a poor touch before Keith Lasley bought the foul. Against Hamilton we saw the strengths and weaknesses to Taylor’s game, powerful in the air but consistently capable of a lapse in concentration.

Anthony O’Connor has impressed since arriving in the summer and most will agree he is our most assured presence at the back. It is possible that the most equipped pairing to deal with the threat posed by Bjørn Johnsen is a combination of Taylor and O’Connor but this would include an unwelcome reshuffling of the back four again at a time when we need to develop consistency.

James Maddison

One of the most talented ball players to play for the club recently, it is undoubtedly a boost to see his loan extended. The midfielder’s technical attributes are endless, yet his inclusion in the first eleven is not without dilemma.

James Maddison proved to be the individual who turned the game against Hamilton, aberdeen44forcing the spill from Gary Woods to tee up Adam Rooney. However, there is often an over-reliance on the young player to be the main creative force, which needs to be addressed in order to get the best out of him.

Additionally, we have seen Maddison adopt a number of positions in the team whether that be wide, central or a free role but his inclusion is not without risk defensively. During the ill-fated defeat to Celtic in the Scottish League Cup Final, the midfielder’s tendency to drift in from the left meant that Considine was doubled up on time and time again. This proved that strong opposition will take advantage of such scenarios.

The team has performed relatively well with Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn in the wide areas, and the triumvirate of McLean, Shinnie and Jack interchanging through the middle. Perhaps, it is worth putting faith in these individuals to build on positive elements from the last two games.

Execution

Whether McInnes continues with the same first eleven or tweaks certain positions, it is key that we look to impose ourselves on the game with pressing that forces errors and purposeful counter-attacking.

It is essential for the defence to make decisions with the ball early and avoid overplaying. Graeme Shinnie and Ryan Jack have to show quality and tenacity against the impressive Arnaud Djoum and Perry Kitchen. Both midfield combinations have the potential to control proceedings by dictating the tempo and playing aggressively but ultimately only one will and there is little room for hesitation or mistakes.

Whoever McInnes opts to be the creative outlets in the wide positions, it is important that they are well-supplied by the midfield and supported by the fullbacks at the correct times. The injury to Calum Paterson means that the chance is there to put pressure on a weaker fullback position. Whether it be Hayes, McGinn or Maddison, our wide players must be prepared to receive and run with the ball, while providing a high level of service to the striker.

While, Rooney’s talents are often limited to the penalty area, he remains our main threat and, therefore, it makes sense to prefer the Irishman ahead of Jayden Stockley. That said, McInnes might see the striker’s height as a useful attribute in leading the line if he opts for the more direct approach and by direct, I mean long ball.

Predicted line-up: Lewis, Logan, Taylor, O’Connor, Considine, Jack, Shinnie, McLean, Hayes, McGinn, Rooney.

Prediction: Heart of Midlothian 1-1 Aberdeen

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