Four takeaways from Aberdeen 1 - 0 Hearts

Aberdeen's Jonny Hayes (left) battles with Jordan McGhee, pre-handball. Picture: SNS

Aberdeen's Jonny Hayes (left) battles with Jordan McGhee, pre-handball. Picture: SNS

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Craig Fowler looks back on a closely fought match that was eventually settled following a bizarre piece of defending

Jonny Hayes is an absolute baller

Believe it or not, Hayes has actually been a little out of sorts for Aberdeen this season. It’s a common cliché – mainly because it’s true – that wide players are naturally inconsistent. Hayes is typically an exception to this rule, which is a reason why he is also capable playing on the opposite flank, at left-back or in the centre of the park. However, this campaign he’s lived up to the winger’s stereotype, going from the sublime to the mediocre and back again.

Recently he appears to have gotten his mojo back and was instrumental drifting in from the right in Aberdeen’s victory over Ross County a fortnight ago, before continuing the form in last weekend’s win at Dundee. With McGinn out of the line-up he had to bring his A game against Hearts, and boy didn’t he just.

The first-half performance from Hayes was a goal and/or assist away from being just about the perfect half of football any SPFL player can play. His crossing was excellent as he delivered tantalising balls with both feet, and Callum Paterson is sure to have nightmares about the wide man for the rest of the week. Even when Hearts changed the system and moved Arnaud Djoum over to give support he still blew by the pair of them.

Hearts are a team with a lot of, erm, “fight”

There was a point in the second half where Hayes, fouled for about the 10th time, threw his hands into the arm and stopped his feet, like a five-year-old being told he could only have the one packet of Monster Munch. The tantrum wasn’t without good reason.

Whenever Aberdeen looked threatening, usually through Hayes, Hearts would bring the attack to a grinding halt with an obvious foul and deal with the set-piece. The players seemed to be working from a rota so no-one would commit enough fouls to warrant a red card, a plan that only Miguel Pallardo broke rank on, leading to his substitution on 31 minutes.

The Gorgie Road side have a number of talented players in the team. In fact, it’s fair to say there’s not a single clogger in the squad. Everyone looks comfortable with the ball at their feet, but they also like to dabble in the dark arts.

This is not a criticism. They still played within the laws of the game – after all, no-one saw red. It is their prerogative to do what they have to do to give themselves the best chance of winning the match.

Some would call it dirty, many would call it cynical, and others would call it smart. You can make up your own mind.

Even football experts are unclear about the handball rule

Former Aberdeen captain Willie Miller stated his opinion on BBC Scotland that Jordan McGhee should have been sent off for his astonishing handball late in the match. There were many others who stated their incredulity that the Hearts defender hadn’t even been booked.

A deliberate handball used to mean an automatic yellow card. However, when the laws were relaxed so that only deliberate handballs counted as fouls, the caution guidelines were relaxed also. Now it is deemed a yellow card offence when a handball denies a promising attack. It is a red card when it denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

Perhaps Miller saw the same apparition McGhee did, some unseen figure loitering with intent at the back post that spooked the youngest into raising his right arm.

Scottish football fans care only for their team

This writer was sent to Tannadice to cover Dundee United v Partick Thistle, so it was impossible to attend this particular match. However, there are a number of fine establishments around the two Dundee clubs’ stadiums, so watching the match, broadcast live on Sky Sports, wasn’t going to be an issue. Or so I thought.

I walked into a bar near the stadium only to be greeted with the sight of three televisions all showing the build-up to Norwich v Everton. In fairness, one of the TVs was turned over to Dons-Jambos after a request was made by myself, but even after the pub filled up with Dundee United fans I remained the only person immersed in this match. The rest were watching Romelu Lukaku do his thing.

There are a number of problems with Scottish football, but apathy from its own support has to take a sizeable portion of the blame. This wasn’t two struggling teams. It was second v third and a battle between two of Scottish football’s biggest clubs. And no matter how you are measure it, it’s two of the better Aberdeen and, to a lesser extent, Hearts teams of the last 20 years. And yet, apparently, nobody cared outside those two fanbases.

I don’t know, I just found it a little depressing. We can change the league structure and introduce summer football and a winter break and penalty goal bonus points all we want, but it’s never going to get any better if people don’t give it a chance.

Notes

• In spite of my own allegiances, McGhee’s handball was my favourite moment this season... what? C’mon, lighten up. If you can’t help but laugh at such basic football dumbness then you’re taking this sport too seriously. Nobody would have remembered a 0-0 draw five years from now. The people that watched will remember McGhee’s handball for decades to come.

• Considine had a decent game but there was a moment in the first half where he lost an aerial challenge to Osman Sow. Now, the Hearts striker is a quality player, a real talent. However, he really struggles in the air. So much so that Hearts had him defending Shay Logan at Aberdeen set-pieces. Considine, you should be embarrassed, though I’m not sure you’re capable of such emotion any more after living past the leaking of THAT video.

• Ryan Jack is a really good player, but it’s hard to justify his selection in the centre of the park as long as both Graeme Shinnie and Willo Flood are fit. Even when going against three men in the centre of the midfield, those two dominated and Aberdeen really couldn’t replicate that kind of play after the half-time reshuffle saw Shinnie go to full-back.

• While it’s often viewed as an outdated formation, 4-4-2 may be the best system for Hearts, at least until Jamie Walker returns. Without the playmaker there’s little doubt their most valuable attacking assets are Juanma and Sow, and the latter is nowhere near as effective when he is forced to play out wide.

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