“THE way the game should be played,” commented Paul Hartley afterwards. Few would disagree, save, perhaps, those Dundee fans getting edgy after a fourth defeat in succession.
But they could do well to look back on times in the recent past when games at Dens Park were more like a chore to attend than a pleasure. And the same goes for those Aberdeen fans who might view with concern the number of goals their team are conceding.
It’s been a while since Aberdeen were cast as great entertainers. But here, while exhibiting the same defensive frailties that allowed St Mirren to retrieve a two-goal deficit last midweek, they again displayed a pleasing attacking verve.
While those with a particular interest in how the defence performs may disagree, the sloppy goals that are being lost is rendered not so troublesome by the number being scored at the other end.
Of course, this is true only if the goals scored out-number those conceded. This was the case at Dens on Saturday, just as it was at Pittodrie at the end of last month, when Aberdeen triumphed over Inverness by the same 3-2 scoreline. Last midweek’s 2-2 draw against St Mirren remains a blot on the landscape.
Derek McInnes’ side continue to show a promising commitment to attack. They have now scored 16 goals – the second highest total in the league after Dundee United. Aberdeen’s recent goal glut has sent club historians scurrying away to their ledgers – this is the first time since 1996 that the Pittodrie side have scored two or more goals in five successive games.
Things are falling into place for Aberdeen. Included in this observation is the form of David Goodwillie, who has taken time to find his feet at the club. It was with his head that he did the damage on Saturday, finding a way of silencing those Dundee fans barracking him by executing a header with Alan Gilzean-like aplomb.
Not that he had to take a leap like Gillie of old. Such was the woeful nature of Dundee’s defending he had only to stand his ground and concentrate on meeting the flight of a cross from the right by Shay Logan. Goodwillie made a strong connection and the ball flew past Kyle Letheran into the net.
Following a first hour when the teams had traded four goals, the onus was now on Aberdeen to keep the lead in the 26 minutes that remained. The visitors spent most of the last few minutes shielding the ball by the corner flag as the jitters rose. Such preventative measures jarred with the expansive nature of the game in the preceding 85 minutes, when play had been of the mainly end-to-end variety.
Aberdeen struck first through an Andrew Considine header after good work from Goodwillie, but Gary Harkins equalised just three minutes later with a stunning right-foot drive from 25 yards. James McPake then scored an own goal header when under pressure from Logan but Dundee again responded via David Clarkson’s penalty ten minutes after the break. Logan later came clean following initial confusion over whether he or McPake had got a final touch to the ball for Aberdeen’s second goal. “It came straight off his [McPake’s] head,” he said. “If he misses it, then it is a tap-in for me. I just put the pressure on. Niall [McGinn] put a great ball in and the defender had to get his head on to it otherwise I would have got my head on to it. It was going to be a goal either way.”
While Logan made his presence felt at both ends of the field, he is one of those for whom preventing goals is the primary objective. “I am a defender, so a clean sheet is the number one priority,” he said afterwards. “Conceding the goals we are conceding means we will have to work on that in training. But if we score more goals than we concede, then we will always win.”
After a sticky start, Aberdeen have now picked up momentum and have cause to rue three defeats in their opening five league games. “At the first game of the [league] season it was inevitable we would be tired,” said Logan, with reference to a tough assignment against Real Sociedad in a Europa League qualifier before falling 3-0 to Dundee United.
“We definitely should not have lost to St Johnstone and we put great pressure on against Celtic – they are the only three games we have lost. If you had asked the manager and ourselves if we’d have been happy with that, then I am sure we would have said yes.”
If Paul Hartley was posed a similar question before the season started you wonder what he might have said. Would he have taken ten points from the opening nine games? Hamilton Accies’ remarkable run since earning promotion via a play-off after finishing behind Dundee in the Championship means the perception of what otherwise looks like a solid start may have altered.
However, while there are clearly some issues to resolve with a brittle defence, breached seven times in successive home matches, few Dundee fans can be too downhearted about how their side have started. Harkins was the architect of a performance that merited a point at least.
“If you look at the teams we have played, we have picked up points where you thought we should not have picked up points but also lost games where you thought we should not have won,” the midfielder said afterwards. “We have done OK. I would not say the points we have reflects how well we have played. But, in the next few weeks, we can go and add a lot more points.”