Craig Fowler looks back at a tense, yet goalless, battle at McDiarmid Park.
Aberdeen left their crossing ability in Maribor (or on their bench)
The flaw in the Aberdeen reserve front three of Jayden Stockley, Miles Storey and Wes Burns made them a relatively straight-forward threesome for the hosts to defend against. Stockey, as the central striker, is someone who relies on his height, predatory instincts and ability to hold the ball up. If he’s going to score he needs service into the penalty area, and while Storey and Burns are threats in attack, they are natural frontmen, and therefore their crossing ability wasn’t of the standard required to pick the St Johnstone lock. It’s no coincidence Aberdeen fared better at crossing during open play after Niall McGinn came on, and latterly when Graeme Shinnie moved out to the left.
Steven Anderson is still king of the underrated
In fairness to the aforementioned attackers, even when Aberdeen were able to swing decent balls into the box they found one man, more often than not, standing in their way. If St Johnstone are the league’s most underrated team, then Steven Anderson is their poster boy. He never gets Player of the Year consideration. He’s not discussed in the press. He’s barely even known to opposition fans. And yet every season he remains one of the more consistent and reliable centre backs in the country. Today’s performance would indicate we’re in for more of the same this term.
Steven McLean is key to an aesthetic Saints
St Johnstone fans bristle at the suggestion their team is stodgy, workmanlike or, even worse, direct. It’s understandable, regardless of accuracy, as such observations are often taken as backhanded compliments. In the run up to the new season, with increased attention paid to all teams, the McDiarmid Park faithful were again quick to dismiss this narrative, insisting the team plays football that is as easy on the eye as it is effective. Unfortunately for them their team didn’t really back it up against Aberdeen. They looked at their most dangerous via long throws or knocking balls quickly into the penalty area, Which, in fairness, was Aberdeen’s plan too (if you swap corners for throw-ins).
In their defence, St Johnstone can play a lot better than that. The reason they didn’t was because Aberdeen did a very effective job of silencing striker Steven McLean. The veteran is one of the best in the SPFL at linking with his team-mates in midfield and creating cohesion between the front-line and the rest of the side. Aberdeen basically marked him out of the game.
“Shinniesta” is back for another season
There wasn’t a whole lot of entertainment on show, but those who kept a keen eye on Graeme Shinnie would still have found the 0-0 a worthwhile 90 minutes. In a curious tactical change, Derek McInnes stationed Kenny McLean, thought of as the closest thing Aberdeen have to a No.10, further back while pushing Shinnie in support of the front two. Whatever the reasons it worked in terms of gaining possession. The Aberdeen central three (Ryan Jack being the other) dominated in that area. Perhaps McInnes selected Shinnie there so he could lead from the front. Even though he was a little more advanced than usual, he was still tigerish out of possession. Time and again he won the ball back for his side, giving the Saints midfielders (and Liam Craig in particular) a torturous afternoon.
You don’t need a left-midfielder, apparently
Speaking of curious tactical changes. Midway through the second half, McInnes opted to bring on both Adam Rooney and Niall McGinn as he sought a goal. The duo came on for Storey and Burns, who were on the left and right flanks, respectively. The BT Sport commentators assumed this was a shift to a 4-4-2 and said no more of it, but it wasn’t. At least not initially. Shinnie kept his central role with Jack and McLean, while Rooney went alongside Stockley, and McGinn took up residence on the right. For the next 15 minutes, Aberdeen played without a left midfielder. They only switched when Joe Shaughnessy, presumably on the instruction of his manager after he showed initial hesitancy, started attacking the space in front of him. The former Aberdeen defender is a natural centre back, so this unorthodox gamble may not have worked against a full back with noted attacking attributes, but then that’s probably why McInnes went for it.