Aberdeen have moved to address some of last season’s squad limitations with the signing of Miles Storey on a pre-contract from Swindon Town, much to the chagrin of Inverness CT who had hoped to keep the striker in the Highlands after an impressive period on loan.
Under Derek McInnes’ guidance, Aberdeen made themselves legitimate title contenders with Celtic. Finishing 15 points behind the champions may not sound like much of an accomplishment in the end, but it’s closer than any other non-Old Firm side has managed since 1998. They’ve accomplished this by doing what very few clubs in Scotland can do, and that’s hold on to their best players. Niall McGinn, Jonny Hayes, Adam Rooney, and now Shay Logan, all signed deals when onlookers may have perceived they were soon about to be on their way.
Seeing as Aberdeen are playing with a limited budget, there has been a downside to keeping their best and brightest around. Rather than build a squad of 20 or so players where the wealth is spread around, Aberdeen have concentrated on keeping the core line-up, with a couple of dependable back-ups scattered around. The flexibility of a number of their starters - Graeme Shinnie, Andrew Considine, McGinn and Hayes are all comfortable operating in more than one position - keeps the opposition guessing and allows McInnes tactical flexibility, but when things aren’t going according to plan, particularly against stubborn opponents, there isn’t a lot in reserve to change things up, particularly in an attacking sense.
They began the season with David Goodwillie and Adam Rooney in attack with Josh Parker as the alternative option off the bench. Goodwillie was utilised in games where McInnes wanted the central striker to hold the ball up and link with the midfield, which Goodwillie is better at doing than Rooney. Unfortunately, Goodwillie simply couldn’t score goals, leaving Rooney as the only viable option after it became apparent Parker wasn’t good enough to feature. Simon Church was recruited in January, and McInnes initially experimented with a 4-4-2, though an injury to their top goalscorer put paid to this. It left them with Church on his own in attack, bringing a set of skills that was kind of mesh between Rooney and Goodwillie - could link outside the area but also score - but few options to change things up.
What was potentially even more fatal was the reliance on Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn. If neither are playing well, Aberdeen have little hope of winning. This is even more of an issue with Hayes because, although he’s been by far the better player of the two this term, McGinn still offers a greater goal threat even when he’s not at his best. Throw in the lack of goals anywhere else - the entire defensive midfield unit combined for one between them, while Kenny McLean only scored four times after August - and you have a massive stumbling block that they couldn’t overcome in many matches.
With the signing of Storey, Aberdeen hope to have strengthened their attack on two fronts. Firstly, it gives them an option at the lone striker position that’s not only different from what they have, but also a more reliable signing and safer bet than Parker was. They’ve seen Storey play in the top flight, they know what he can do and they know he can score goals. Rooney will remain vital to Aberdeen but, in matches where his team-mates are struggling to create for him, they now have a livewire with quickness and direct running and someone who can make things happen for himself. Storey also does a great job of stretching teams laterally. He’ll be restricted in the amount of space he has to run in behind against opponents who come to Pittodrie and just sit in, but Aberdeen will be hoping their other new signing, Bournemouth’s Jayden Stockley, will provide a reliable third option on that front. A player who’ll have height, strength and the ability to hold the ball in tight areas, thereby taking advantage of those that pack the box and challenge the likes of McGinn, Hayes and Rooney to work around them.
Storey can also be of use in the attacking triumvirate behind Rooney or Stockley. He has experience of playing on the wing and, while its not his best position, it at least provides McInnes with a viable option off the bench when either McGinn or Hayes are struggling, something that’s been sorely lacking ever since Peter Pawlett’s form went in the toilet. Storey suffered a dip in form the more he was asked to play on the flanks at Caley Thistle, but seeing as Aberdeen are a stronger side who’ll enjoy the majority of attacking possession against most opponents, he’ll get to play closer to goal and have greater influence as a result.
The key will be getting Storey assimilated quickly and keeping his confidence high. It’s hard to bring a player in who’s expected to be a squad player from the start and get consistent input out of him. At Caley Thistle he was allowed to build up a head of steam in the forward role. Aberdeen won’t start him in every match and they’ll need to figure out a way to keep him happy, motivated and playing at his peak when called upon.
If Aberdeen want to continue to contend at the top of the table then they need to do a lot more in the transfer market. A new goalkeeper is the top priority, and they may also look at bringing in a new centre back after both Mark Reynolds and Ash Taylor endured steep drops in form, while a ball-winning centre midfielder wouldn’t go amiss either. However, with plenty of time to sort out the rest of the squad, they’ve already given their fans a reason to be hopeful for next campaign.
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