ALL the evidence thus far suggests that Aberdeen will once again be the side most likely to mount a credible challenge to the champions this season.
Along with Hearts, they are the only Premiership team yet to drop so much as a point and, while they trail Robbie Neilson’s men by dint of having asked the SPFL to rearrange their home game against Hamilton Accies, it would be a major surprise if the visitors leave Pittodrie with anything more than a cup of tea on 15 September.
Manager Derek McInnes’s squad also possesses more strength in depth than Neilson can call on and the Dons are, therefore, better placed to keep up the pace over the long haul. However, in spite of the tests which will come before and after, all eyes are already on Celtic’s visit to the granite city on 12 September.
Aberdeen lost all four of their meetings last season and victories such as the one at Fir Park, while impressive enough in its own right, will mean little if they cannot lay a glove on Ronny Deila’s team.
Aberdeen’s players are not getting too far ahead of themselves but there is a belief among them that they are already a different proposition to the side which finished 17 points behind Celtic in May.
Central defender Ash Taylor, who scored what proved to be the winner on Saturday, has no doubts that the current squad is better placed to – at the very least – close that gap.
“Taking maximum points is a great way to start from the first three games but it is still only early in the season at this stage,” said the 24-year-old. “It’s about our overall performances and we have to keep them going. We did well last season and we just want to improve with each one that we go along. We just want to maintain a level of performance and see if it takes us further.
“We are a better team than last season. We have spent a year more together now and we have also added some more good players to the group.
“There is experience and we feel a lot stronger. Seeing Adam Rooney on the bench just goes to show the type of squad we have. Keeping a guy who scored 27 or 28 goals for us last season out of the team is evidence of the strength in depth we have.”
Aberdeen had to battle to subdue a lively home side, who took the lead when Marvin Johnson netted from the rebound after Danny Ward had pushed Scott McDonald’s drive conveniently into his path.
Galvanised by the goal, the Steelmen increased the tempo and pressed their opponents high up the pitch to good effect.
To their credit, though, Aberdeen refused to panic and would argue that they merited their good fortune when a cross from Niall McGinn found its way into the net after being missed by both David Goodwillie and goalkeeper Connor Ripley. McInnes was forced to replace the injured Willo Flood at the interval but, rather than making a like-for-like substitution, he introduced Rooney to the fray and that altered the dynamic of the contest.
Although the striker made a hash of the only opportunity to come his way, his presence had Motherwell on the back foot and the visitors always looked the likelier side from then on.
Taylor’s winner came when he utilised his experience (and physique) to barge Motherwell defender Louis Laing into Ripley, leaving himself with a simple header from McGinn’s free-kick.
“Set plays are important at times – they can win games,” Taylor said. “It won this one and I was happy to see it hit the net. I got five last season and I wouldn’t mind getting my head on to some more this term but the most important job for me is to keep clean sheets. Goals are just a bonus for me.
“Motherwell made it difficult at times for us, but we dominated in spells of the game and deserved to win in the end. We managed to do the job. I wouldn’t say that we expect to win games but, with the players we have in our squad, we can cause problems for opponents and there are goals within the set-up.
“In a way, you always know you are going to score and it’s just up to us to keep clean sheets. The team spirit within the changing room ensures we never know when we are beaten.”
Motherwell’s start to the new season is an exact replica of last year’s traumatic campaign but winger Lionel Ainsworth does not believe that they will be in similar danger of demotion this season.
“We competed with a team here who were second in the table last season,” he said. “They are strong, but we outplayed them in the game and just gave away silly goals. There are plenty of positives.
“When you play against Aberdeen, you know it is always going to be tough but we were unlucky, even though you can’t keep saying that.
“The equaliser set us back and our heads dropped. We got our goal on the break, went 1-0 up and our tails were up, but the one we conceded for 1-1 was a big knock. You saw the way it went in. It’s not a move which has opened up our back four – it’s just a hit-and-hope ball.
“We had spells with waves of attack but our end product and final ball should have been better. We also have to tighten up a little more.”