WHISPER it, but this might just be the season where Aberdeen live up to pre-season expectations.
Obviously it is still early days, but on this evidence Derek McInnes has assembled a squad more than capable of staking a claim for one of the European qualifying places come the end of term. Perhaps, even more.
This was a match they took control of very quickly against a Kilmarnock team that still looks a work in progress. While the away fans shouted for the removal of Michael Johnston and displayed banners backing the team but calling for a new regime, Aberdeen fans were devoid of any such distractions and were able to enjoy what was on show on the park. There was no flattering to deceive, no lack of conviction, this was a fluid and dangerous Aberdeen side. The one worry is that for all the domination, Kilmarnock were able to come back at them and cause one or two nervous flutters towards the end of the match after substitute Kris Boyd reduced the deficit for the visitors.
Two up by the time he entered the fray, thanks to Johnny Hayes and Willo Flood, there really should have been more daylight between them by then, but while the issues in front of goal which hampered them last season don’t look as big a handicap, there is evidence that they haven’t been completely eradicated either. Calvin Zola is a handful, but he still needs to get full fitness, while others showed the will but too often lacked the wherewithal.
“We should have been out of sight,” admitted McInnes, adding that without question they should have rattled in several more than the two goals they had to settle for. “It meant the scoreline made it look closer than it was.”
In terms of open play, it wasn’t that tight at all. Aberdeen were impressive, using their pace and the balance of the side well to spread the play and stretch their visitors, who struggled to cope with their determination and their movement.
Applying the pressure early on, they won a string of corners and with some delightful through balls and passes in behind, they eventually got the breakthrough their play merited.
Zola was the man with the original shot and while Killie keeper Craig Samson got a hand to it, he couldn’t completely halt it’s journey to the back post where Hayes was boring down. He nicked it back inside the post and while Jamie Fowler slid in, he only helped the ball over the line.
After that there was the proverbial barrowload of chances for Aberdeen as Flood, Barry Robson and young Ryan Jack pulled all the strings in midfield in open play and the big defenders made more than a nuisance of themselves as the set pieces were delivered into them.
Kilmarnock were struggling to get to grips with the counter-attacks, the tempo and the tenacity of Aberdeen’s play.
The second goal arrived in the 52nd minute and it was masterminded by the Pittodrie side’s assistant manager Tony Docherty. He had identified space he wanted both Flood and Jack to attack and Flood obliged and got what he said was his first headed goals since he was kid.
“Yeah, I think I scored one when I was 12! But Tony Doc had been on my case saying I should take more of a gamble so I did, to shut him up,” said the former Dundee United midfielder. It was a superb finish to a lovely move, where Niall McGinn and Hayes combined and the latter delivered a cross which Flood glanced beyond Samson.
It was enough to seal the victory for the home side, despite Boyd’s intervention in the 64th minute. It was a low strike from the man his manager Allan Johnston says could be pivotal in the months ahead, once he finds full fitness. He was shy of that yesterday, which allowed the home fans to rib him with taunts of ‘sumo’. He repaid them with the goal and a celebration that proved he had a sense of humour. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the referee who booked him.
The last laugh, though, was the Dons’ fans. Although there was a fear that they might succumb to an equaliser they held on and continued to press for a third. It didn’t come, but they didn’t need it and saw the game out to give themselves the kind of start to the season that underlines their potential for the campaign ahead. They will do well if they can continue to create so many chances and it’s exciting to think just how much better they can do if they start to convert a higher percentage of them.