PERHAPS the cautious approach adopted by Aberdeen players and management in the majority of their interviews has some merit. After all, fate doesn’t seem to be dealing well with temptation.
“I have to be careful what I say because the last time I spoke about a run like this I got sent off in the next game,” said defender Mark Reynolds, as he chatted to the media on Wednesday. The topic under discussion was his lengthy spell without a booking. Despite playing every minute of every game so far this season, he still hadn’t picked up a single yellow card. In fact, the last time he was cautioned was back in March 2013.
Just 43 minutes into their very next game, the 1-1 draw against St Johnstone on Friday night, and just 48 hours after talking about it, that changed, and Reynolds was booked.
It validates the club’s intention not to hype up matters with regards the league, aware of how easily words can come back to haunt. It also serves as an indication of how things were going in that particular match as Aberdeen struggled to adjust to the absence of Reynolds’ centre-back partner Ash Taylor and the subsequent shuffling of the pack.
“I think a lot of bookings come from desperation and lunging in, especially for defenders,” Taylor said earlier in the week, “and sometimes players lunge in when trying to impose themselves in a game or they are trying to get the upper hand. But the way we have played this season we have imposed ourselves with our football and passed the ball about and not really been chasing many games or been under a lot of pressure and needed to make last-gasp tackles.
“We have been well organised and we know how to play as a back five unit and we have not really been left exposed or out on a limb and having to bring someone down to try to stop attacks. You don’t have to put in last gasp tackles when you are on the ascendency and dictating games.”
Aberdeen’s form, allied to the continuity of selection has undoubtedly helped, with changes limited to just one in a series of games where they had harvested 22 points from a possible 24 until Friday night. With a League Cup semi-final against Dundee United at Hampden this Saturday, the enforced defensive rejig and subsequent wobble in form is untimely.
Consistency has been their forte but cup competitions are sometimes the friend of the inconsistent. Out the Scottish Cup, the League Cup offers Derek McInnes’ men their only remaining shot at a domestic trophy in knock-out competition this term and while they have left it to others to talk up their title challenge, there is less reticence when it comes to the business of the cups.
The tournament gave them their first silverware in almost two decades when they saw off Inverness Caledonian Thistle last season and progression to the latter stages of the cups has been more reliable. According to Reynolds, the players now believe they are capable of winning more silverware.
“I think we started that way this year and obviously the game at Dundee in the Scottish Cup was a big loss but we played well and we had chances and ended up losing it by slack goals we conceded and by not taking our chances. It was a sore one to take but we bounced back from it and went on the run we have had in the league and we now have this semi-final coming up so we go into every game confident that we can win it. If you are going into games with that mentality then you have to be hopeful of winning cups as well.
“Last year, after we won the cup, we said we wanted it to be the start of a special period for Aberdeen and I think we feel there’s a journey that we are on just now. We don’t know where it will end but we are all enjoying it and hoping we can keep it going as long as we can. We are progressing as a team and we feel that this season, we are further on than last year. We have strengthened our starting XI, we have a stronger squad, we know each other better, the manager knows the players better and we are that wee bit further on and developing as a team.”
But progress is subjective, it is trophies that are tangible and the history books measure success in silverware. “It’s a fair point if you are looking at it from the outside in,” concedes the defender. “I think we are progressing but silverware is something to hold up and it’s something you can see at the end of the season and if you are claiming it has been successful you can say: ‘There’s the trophy to prove it’. But it is going to be hard. There are only two cups up for grabs and then the league trophy so there are only going to be three winners at most so it is hard to keep in the mix and win a trophy every year. Certainly we would love to do it again and, if you were to ask the fans, if it was a less successful season if we don’t win a trophy then they would probably tell you it was. The expectation is always there but it is a lot easier to talk about than to actually do it.”
Which is the point his manager has been making as he urges them to ignore the hype and do all their talking on the park.
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