SHOWS how much I know. After they’d won last season’s League Cup, I wrote a piece headlined “Eight things Aberdeen should do now” and No 6 was “Don’t even think about letting Barry Robson retire”.
If the Dons were to build on that long-overdue success, I reckoned, then it was all very well them having so many kids in the team but the bandy-legged midfield warrior would need his creaking joints patched up somehow, and the same went for his stoker mate in the engine-room, Willo Flood.
But in this record-equalling run of eight games won and no goals conceded, the veteran twosome have merely managed 12 minutes of substitute appearances between them, with Robson only returning from his hip injury on Saturday to help his team run down the clock for their latest victory, 2-0 at St Mirren.
I must admit that when compiling “Eight things” I’m not sure I believed that Aberdeen merited such analysis. After all, they’d only won a rubbish, goalless final on penalties and Inverness Caley-Thistle could count themselves unlucky that day. My suspicion that this wasn’t yet a great north-east renaissance seemed to be confirmed when St Johnstone ruined fanciful notions of the two trophies per season which Alex Ferguson used to insist upon by dumping the Dons out of the Scottish Cup in the semi-finals. Then Motherwell pipped them for runners-up spot in the Premiership.
But we felt compelled to project ahead in the aftermath of that triumph because this was Aberdeen. Because of 11 trophies in seven years. Because after the demise of Rangers they seemed best-equipped to challenge Celtic. Because of the unholy racket made by 40,000 of their fans, a hugely impressive demonstration of the potential of the club, even if a lot of them had brought along inflatable sheep. And because of Derek McInnes who’d been quietly impressive as manager and maybe, just maybe, he could be the one after so many false dawns, and false Dons.
McInnes collected a trophy before the first anniversary of his appointment, which was good going, and now he’s got them four points clear at the top of the league and making us wonder if the Old Firm’s cosy arrangement – the title hasn’t been won by another club since Aberdeen’s triumph of 1984-85 – is about to be smashed.
By McInnes’s second anniversary, 25 March, we will have a much better idea. By then Aberdeen will have played another eight league games – possibly nine with an away fixture at Dundee United to be accommodated with the two clubs meeting in the League Cup semi-finals – and if they’re still holding a four-point lead you’d have to say they have a great chance. Because by then Celtic would surely have caught up with their outstanding matches. And by then Aberdeen would have been to Celtic Park. 28 February is the key date. Mark it in your diaries if you haven’t already done so.
Can Aberdeen hold their nerve and hold their lead? Have they timed their run just right given that, as regards challenges from the provinces, many are called but few are chosen to get past Christmas? Can Adam Rooney keep scoring or is that not so life-or-death given six other players have netted in the sequence of victories? Given the relative inexperience of the team compared to the cup-winning line-up which featured Jamie Langfield and Russell Anderson as well as Flood and Robson, has the latter timed his comeback just right and will his knowledge of what it takes to win league flags prove invaluable?
The very fact this championship is posing any questions at all in January is so gratifying and there are more concerning Celtic, who many thought would have had it wrapped up by now. Will their winter break in Gran Canaria enable them to return re-energised for the business end of the season or will it simply continue the stop-start nature of their form in this campaign? And is Ronny Deila right to keep saying Celtic will win the treble, especially now he most obviously has a fight on his hands for the main prize?
Billy Stark, who I met last week, and who played for Aberdeen and Celtic, has been surprised by Deila’s brashness, and more impressed by the cool responses of McInnes on what might be achievable this season. Stark could have also mentioned the unflappability displayed by McInnes during the racism row involving Shay Logan and Aleksandar Tonev and also last week’s daft non-story about ex-Celt Niall McGinn being snapped among Hoops fans with his pal Anthony Stokes. The manager said he’d rather his players were watching football than bevvying.
Yet Stark doesn’t think Aberdeen will win the title. I bow to his superior knowledge, but really, why not?
So many beautiful, unfilmed goals
Okay, maybe Aberdeen are the romantic’s choice, but here’s another: Stephanie Roche, striker for Peamount United in the Irish Women’s National League, in front of 95 people and doubtless at least one dog, for the prize for best goal in the world.
Today, when the Ballon d’Or is handed out in Zurich, the Puskas Award will be claimed too. James Rodriguez is up for it, so too Robin van Persie. We all remember their strikes: the Colombian’s sublime chest control, swivel and volley against Uruguay and the Dutchman’s Superman-style leap for that header against Spain. Hundreds of millions watched last summer’s World Cup.
But Roche only getting on to the podium because her manager, not included among the 95, was rather shakily filming the game against Wexford Youths, makes me think – and not for the first time – about all the wondrous goals which were never captured on camera.
Take George Best. Match of the Day only covered a couple of games weekly during his pomp. Thankfully, they got his lob against Spurs and the one against Sheffield United after he’d blurred past four defenders. But there will have been others which only exist in the memory of those who were there. We’re talking Bestie; there must have been.
And while we’re at it, how many did Morton’s Andy Ritchie score which were as good, if not better, than that outrageous free kick against Partick Thistle and one against Aberdeen when he sold a gorgeous dummy to both Willie Miller and Alex McLeish but tragically went unfilmed?
To win the Puskas your goal has to be beautiful. Big Andy’s were certainly that, and there was incidental
beauty too in the backdrop of
Cappielow’s light-blue invalid cars, a playing surface sandy enough for Wilson, Keppel & Betty and the perm on the Thistle goalie (yes, it was Alan Rough).
There is something of the Ritchie goal vs the Dons – an unpromising situation electrified by an arcing flick which stuns the marker – in the one finished with a left-foot thunderbolt by Roche. I’d certainly put her ahead of Van Persie who last season seemed to be saving himself for the World Cup which should count against him.
Rodriguez’s shot cannoned off the underside of the bar, always a beautiful thing. But, assuming I’m too late
to nominate Ritchie – slower than those invalid cars but so what? – I’d give it to Roche.
Peamount United’s Stephanie Roche is in the frame to win the Puskas Award for the best goal of the yearPicture: Getty