THE best and worst of Aberdeen’s Scottish Premiership campaign thus far.
Not a clear cut choice, as no-one’s been totally devoid of flaws or poor showings. Curiously, the one who’s most consistently done his job from July to the present day has also spent a bit of time on the bench: Adam Rooney. Eleven goals in all competitions - boosted by some hauls against minnows, admittedly - shows he still has that eye for goal which made him an instant success last season. That it’s been disrupted through selection choices arguably makes this tally more impressive. More recently though, he’s helped bring the best out of David Goodwillie, proving his ability to function within any forward dynamic the Dons choose to field. Either way, Aberdeen always look significantly more threatening for his presence.
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At the risk of perpetuating a witch hunt, it would be remiss to nominate anyone other than Ash Taylor. From his first domestic outing against Dundee United he looked nervy and cumbersome in possession, and although he seems to possess some raw defensive qualities, a side so comparatively well-stocked at centre-half requires a little more. Though it might sound unkind, it isn’t too great of a stretch to say he’s been individually at fault for a handful of goals, too. Requires a marked turnaround if he’s to convince supporters that he’s capable at this level; many have already made up their minds.
That a rigid, tough-to-beat outfit has quite so swiftly transformed into a free-scoring bunch with an underbelly softer than wool. Normally it takes a fairly seismic shift, such as a managerial change, or a squad overhaul, for a team’s personality to reverse so dramatically.
Quite frequently throughout this season though, the way Aberdeen have played has been difficult to reconcile with last season’s team. In a way that’s good - the barren, one-paced matches towards the back end of 2013-14 have been remedied with some swashbuckling attacking at times. But the lack of consistency in defence and central midfield make them look a far less formidable proposition for opponents.
Generally speaking, the defence’s inability to cope without Russell Anderson. In theory, a 36-year-old who could well be in the final season of his playing career shouldn’t be such a major blow to have had unavailable with such frequency this year. In practice, it’s glaring.
Perhaps it would have been less so if Andy Considine was playing in place of Taylor, but Mark Reynolds, for all his good qualities, doesn’t look like a leader at the back, at least to extent that a vice-captain ought to be. In 2007, Aberdeen were faced with the mammoth task of replacing Anderson when he moved down south. One would have reasonably figured back then that we’d have found a new problem to deal with by the end of 2014.
Best team performance:
Though it wasn’t perfect by any means, the 3-2 home win over Inverness had the, arguably deceptive, feeling of a corner-turner about it. At a stage when Caley Thistle were playing some of the best football in the league, it was a convincing, fluid performance and a victory with no small amount of character, giving the indication the Dons could perhaps combine attacking style with a knack for picking up results.
That said, the victory in Groningen was probably the most impressive. Though it feels a little distant and less relevant to the remainder of the campaign now, it’s one that will last longest in the memory. Though there was a bit of hanging on by the end though, it didn’t feel undeserved either, and worthy of a place among some of Aberdeen’s most esteemed triumphs on the continent.
The 3-0 loss at Hamilton felt particularly damaging for a number of reasons. It showed that there’s another way to beat Aberdeen, away from the well-worn method of sitting in and frustrating. Hamilton refused to let the visitors play, and overwhelmed them as a result, exposing a vulnerability which hadn’t really been tested so vigorously before.
Even more concerning, it highlighted Derek McInnes’ fallibility, with a bizarre team selection, mashing square pegs into distinctly non-square holes. Sure, it’s not like it’s the first time you could have had a tactical quibble over his decision making, but it was the first time it looked as if he’d got it spectacularly wrong.
Finally, there was something horribly familiar about traipsing home after a bleak evening in the central belt, watching Aberdeen get comprehensively beaten. Like a recurring nightmare that you thought you’d shaken, it was the kind of defeat that we hadn’t suffered for quite some time.
Most worrying contract:
Given his current form, and the fact that most of the squad’s key figures are tied down beyond this campaign, the brevity of David Goodwillie’s deal is probably the most pressing contract concern. The logic of a one-year deal was apparent in the summer, but Aberdeen will do unexpectedly well to sign a player who is better than a fully-functioning Goodwillie. Hopefully, an extended stay becomes more and more appealing for both parties as the season continues.
Firstly, the positives. He clearly identified that Aberdeen needed to be less predictable, and he addressed it, firstly through the dalliance with a midfield diamond, and later with a more conventional 4-4-2. He’s been more cavalier at home, and clearly seemingly encouraged the players to be more expressive within his system - Shay Logan for example seems to pop up as an auxiliary forward with a frequency he never hinted at last year. There were few complaints, too, over his decisive move to drop Jamie Langfield for his poor form.
That desire to be change what was, remember, a winning formula, has led to a few odd-looking decisions though. Forcing players into unnatural roles, such as Jonny Hayes as a tucked-in left midfielder, Rooney as a wide forward, Ryan Jack as a right midfielder or Considine as a left-back, for example, while generally disrupting the side’s rhythm and cohesion has given the season a distinctly stop-start air of frustration so far.
This Aberdeen side are at something of a crossroads. For the first time in his reign, there’s a little pressure on McInnes to navigate a way out of it.
• Written by John Callan for The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast website
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