YOU don’t need to travel far to find someone willing to vouch that today’s League Cup semi-final between Aberdeen and Dundee United will be the better spectacle of the two ties being staged this weekend.
Since the clash is also set to attract the largest crowd to watch these two north-East rivals play in almost 60 years both sides are operating under significant pressure this afternoon. Even at the height of their New Firm powers, they never attracted today’s expected crowd of over 30,000.
While it is not quite the guaranteed sell-out that is Rangers v Celtic the following day, this is still an impressive number, one which vindicates the decision to play the game at Hampden rather than another, smaller stadium.
Although Police Scotland have visited all four clubs this week to remind them of their responsibilities, the onus on Aberdeen and United players is to perform rather than behave. No-one is anticipating trouble inside or outside the ground this afternoon. Even the presence of a star player who recently played for the opposition shouldn’t cause too much agitation – or at least David Goodwillie expects it won’t.
He is hopeful his legacy at United can remain secure after he scored one of the goals that helped the Tannadice club lift the Scottish Cup against Ross County five years ago. When he returned to the club for a second time in the summer of 2013, on loan from Blackburn Rovers, it generated understandable excitement in the Tannadice stands. As so often happens, the decision to return to a place of former glories did not work out as planned.
Although Goodwillie still scored a fairly respectable six goals in 22 appearances, he contributed mostly from the bench. Three of these goals were also scored in one game, against Partick Thistle in the League Cup. The lack of game-time was a frustration for him but, he reasons, the team were playing well enough without him at the time. Nadir Ciftci was breaking into the team, as was Ryan Gauld.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
“I didn’t get a chance to show what I can do,” reflected Goodwillie. “It wasn’t my fault, the team were doing really well and I couldn’t get in. Because I didn’t play, I couldn’t get back on form. It’s all about timing.
“Coming to Aberdeen has turned my career around because I wasn’t in a good place,” he added. “I wasn’t playing. But I’ve come here and things have changed, so I am enjoying it.”
He doesn’t know whether he harmed his legacy in this comparatively unproductive second spell on Tayside. All he does know is that he didn’t play enough to emulate the form from his initial time at Tannadice. He couldn’t get going. In the end, there was little surprise when United declined to seek to sign him on a full-time basis, or even extend his initial loan deal.
Goodwillie’s adventures continued on loan at Blackpool before Derek McInnes, a former Tannadice club-mate, took a chance and signed Goodwillie for Aberdeen. It’s been difficult for United fans to watch someone their club reared return to Tannadice in his new team’s colours.
“I don’t know how United fans will react to me [at Hampden],” pondered Goodwillie. “I gave them my all when I was there and I’ll be giving Aberdeen my all, so we’ll just have to see.”
While he has scored twice against Dundee this season, he has yet to find the net against his former team. Has he thought about what to do if he scored this afternoon?
“When you score a goal in any game emotions take over and you just have to see what happens at the time,” he said. He isn’t promising to follow the controversial modern trend for players refusing to celebrate when finding the net against a former club.
He would like to think that whatever happens, United supporters will still respect what he did for the club. “The Scottish Cup win with United is my biggest achievement in club football so far,” he said. “It’s a day I always go back to and remember, because it is fond memories. Although in saying that I can’t actually really remember scoring the goal, I just hit it high in the air and it went in.”
At the time, he was the young Scottish player of whom perhaps most was expected; a big money move to Blackburn Rovers followed and he was capped by Scotland. But it didn’t work out quite as well as he had hoped in Lancashire during what were troubled times for the club and troubled times for Goodwillie personally. Yet he still considers the move south a success.
“I am a better player now than I used to be,” he states. “I’m more experienced, I’ve been down south and have taken things with me from that.
“I don’t regret going because I enjoyed a lot of it. I learned from playing with good players, you improve your movement and touch playing with guys like that. The standard of player you’re training with helps you. So I think I’ve definitely improved as a player because of it. Everyone down there is so professional so I looked up at guys like David Dunn, because he’d been there for years and took the young players under his wing. I still have a lot of ambition. I want to play at the highest level possible. My ambition is to be here at Aberdeen and win things, that’s why I came here and it’s what I hope to do.”
The signing, earlier this month, of a contract extension to the end of next season confirmed how settled he feels at Pittodrie. Five goals in 26 appearances might not sound prolific but he has proved good foil for Adam Rooney, who has continued to be the principal goalscorer.
“It has been pleasant to be under the radar because most of the time things have been hectic for me,” said Goodwillie. Even when he signed the extension to his contract, the news was broken with little fanfare and no opportunity to interview Goodwillie. It’s rare to hear him speak but he handled this pre-cup semi-final briefing well, sighing with mock relief when the chore was over.
Of course, it’s about the football. It’s about what happens on the Hampden pitch this afternoon, at a good old fashioned kick-off time of 3pm. It’s about reaching a final. If Goodwillie is the one who fate decrees has the decisive say against his former club, few would be surprised.