It’s fair to say Aberdeen defender Anthony O’Connor has been pleasantly surprised and impressed by the quality of football played by all the teams in the Premiership since moving north last summer. All except St Johnstone it seems.
The Irishman, who manager Derek McInnes signed under freedom of contract, initially feared he was coming to a division that would be similar to the physically pressing, long-ball game he longed to leave behind at Burton Albion
That approach was good enough to earn the Midlands club automatic promotion from League One last season but while it may have been successful, O’Connor admits it wasn’t much fun to play in.
Now the centre-back is enjoying life again given the style of play adopted by Aberdeen and the majority of the teams they come up against.
The one frustration has been matches against St Johnstone, like last weekend’s goalless draw between the pair at Pittodrie which was a reminder of the sort of games that were regular occurrences in the third tier of English football.
O’Connor said: “The standard has been really good with Celtic obviously top of the bunch then there’s Rangers, ourselves and Hearts scrapping it out underneath them.
“Then you have the rest of the teams behind us fighting to get into the top six but every team you play you come up against a different challenge.
“When you come up against St Johnstone it’s a different type of game as it’s more direct and about second balls and stuff like that. I expected more teams to be a bit more like St Johnstone. A bit more hustle and bustle and get in your faces but the majority of the teams like to get on the ball and pass it so I’ve been really encouraged by the football.
“When I was at Burton last year going for promotion we weren’t a team that got the ball down and played under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Nigel Clough. The league just didn’t allow us to do it. It was just all get the ball in behind, run after it and go for second balls but it worked for us as we got promoted. That was what I was expecting, the same thing up here, but there has been much more football played which was surprising but I’ve really enjoyed it.
“I remember the first game of the season when we drew nil-nil with St Johnstone and even in that game there seemed to be a lot of football played. I’m not saying they did play a lot of football but we did. We had the ball on the ground quite a lot and I was thinking then that this team can play.”
The Dons travel to Dingwall today to face Ross County and striker Liam Boyce feels Jim McIntyre’s side are back to their normal selves following a five-match unbeaten run.
County sit seventh despite winning only once in 14 matches. But that victory came recently against St Johnstone and they followed it up with draws against Hamilton, Hearts and Dundee.
Boyce said: “It’s just good to get points on the board. Not only that, the way we’ve been playing we’ve been back to our old selves. We’ve been creating a lot of chances and it just comes down to taking them.”
Boyce feels Aberdeen merit being billed as the best of the rest behind Celtic despite slipping behind Rangers in recent weeks.
“They deserve that title anyway because they have been playing brilliantly for the last coupe of seasons,” he said.
“They have dangerous players all over the pitch, a lot of pace and players who can do damage in certain situations.
“We know what we are up against on Saturday and we have to nullify that pace.”