Kenny McLean was dominant following his Scotland snub, Alexnadros Tziolis had a nightmare, Aberdeen’s wide men were fantastic, as was Shay Logan and what is the issue with Craig Levein helping Ian Cathro, writes Joel Sked.
The Scotland snubs
No matter the Scotland squad Gordon Strachan picks, he will face questions as to why he has left player X out or why he has included player A. This time around it appears that Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean, Ryan Jack and Jamie Walker are players W, X, Y and Z. All have had positive seasons for their respective teams and all started at Pittodrie.
Come the full-time whistle the volume was turned up on the disbelief that neither McLean or Shinnie were included, while those calling for Walker’s involvement were left mute.
Aberdeen’s midfield trio were dominant for a dominant Aberdeen as they eased to a well-deserved 2-0 victory against a hapless Hearts side, with Walker increasingly irrelevant as the game progressed.
Jack had one of his most comfortable afternoon’s at the base of the Dons midfield. There was not so much as a few acres between Esmael Goncalves and the rest of his team as a galaxy. Jack wasn’t required to do much mopping up. He could sit and offer his services whenever they were needed.
Shinnie provided the midfield with legs, energy, intelligence and dynamism. It was as if he had turned to Jack and said: “Skipper, you have the day off today, I’ll do the running.” He covered the ground, supporting team-mates both in and out of possession. He may not record fantastic stats, doesn’t chip in with too many goals or assists, but his presence is noticeable in what he gives his team-mates.
Yet, McLean was the star man and was rightly awarded the man of the match award from BT. He was, once again, Aberdeen’s driving force through the middle. Aberdeen are so effective down the wings that the centre of the pitch can be neglected at times. But McLean’s quality is coming to the fore and he is turning into a talisman.
Even when the pitch is proving troublesome he has the necessary touch, poise and composure to get attacks up and running.
He ran the experienced Alexandros Tziolis ragged, not giving him an iota of time or space. If there is a player in Scotland who should perhaps feel hard done by not to being in the Scotland squad it is him.
Hearts’ Greek Tragedy
During the second half Chris Sutton, commentating on BT Sport, said: “I don’t want to keep saying he’s been awful but he really has been”. He was speaking about Alexandros Tziolis. And he had every right to keep saying it.
The Greek internationalist, recently recalled to the national team, had a harrowing afternoon. He was coming off the back of an assertive performance against Hamilton where he tackled and intercepted everything, while never wasting possession. There was none of this against Aberdeen.
He was back to the ponderous, apathetic figure which sleepwalked through both games against Hibs. With Aberdeen quick and direct, looking to put Hearts on the back foot, he was caught out in possession a number of times, trying to play at his own pace. McLean was the bane of his afternoon, the former St Mirren midfielder pressing him at every opportunity.
Slack passes were being made, while he was booked in the 13th minute for a cynical pull back on McLean having already brought down Shinnie with a late challenge minutes earlier.
At times he looks like a powerful, commanding midfielder then he switches and his attitude his completely different.
He played his part in the woeful concession of the second goal. Again, he was pressed by McLean leading to him stretching to play a hurried pass back to fellow Greek Tasos Avlonitis. With Jonny Hayes bearing down on him, Avlonitis tried to play quickly back to Jack Hamilton but under hit the pass, presenting the flying winger with a simple goal.
Wide men epitomise the gulf
Speaking of Jonny Hayes, him and Niall McGinn were excellent. The duo epitomised the 17 point gap that exists between the side. They thrived while Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker withered.
Nicholson had the chance to open the scoring but wasted the fine opportunity. He, along with Walker, were equally ineffective for the whole game, both in and out of possession. Wide men should be aware that when they play at Pittodrie they are going to have to work. A lot. Nicholson and Walker didn’t support their full-backs the way McGinn and Hayes did.
The Aberdeen pair petrified Hearts’ full-backs. The first goal came from Andraz Struna backing off McGinn to allow the Northern Irishman to whip in a delicious cross for Shay Logan to head the opener. Logan had drifted off Nicholson who may as well have been a plant-pot, while Lennard Sowah could have been down the beach for all he did to try and prevent the Aberdeen full-back from scoring. From six yards.
Every time Hayes got the ball in the second half it was if he was clutching some sort of sharp object and Struna was doing his best to run away and avoid him, rather than confront him before he entered the box.
Both wingers were ably supported by their full-backs allowing for overload opportunities or simple distractions. Hearts could learn a thing or two.
One superhero is proving a hit at the cinemas. However, for Aberdeen fans there is only one LOGAN.
On his 150th appearance for the Dons Shay Logan notched his 13th goal. As a point of comparison, Andrew Considine has played more than 350 times for Aberdeen, scoring 18 times. Chuck in Logan’s 13 assists according to Transfermarkt and you have one of the most dangerous full-backs in the country.
Not only is he one of the most dangerous full-backs going forward, he is one of the best with his all-round play. A significant argument could be made that’s the best in the league behind Kieran Tierney.
He demonstrated his Pippo Inzaghi like instincts in the opposition box in the 21st minute. He ran off Sam Nicholson, as he had done throughout the opening period, caught-out a ball watching Sowah to sneak in and head past a helpless Jack Hamilton. For a defender standing at only 5ft8in he is a predator in the air.
But it his all round play which is most impressive. In spite of his size he possess a superb spring and timing of his jump which makes him so effective in both boxes, as well as defending backpost crosses. Watch him defend and appreciate how little he is beaten in the air.
Or on the ground. He is diminutive and combative. Quick and energetic. He covers his centre-backs really well, knows his possession, when to go and when to sit. He is flexible which appeals to Derek McInnes. When changes are made he is always kept on. He is a very, very good football player. An underrated one at that.
The gnashing of the teeth started as soon as the camera panned to Craig Levein speaking with Jon Daly in the Aberdeen Main Stand. The former striker appeared to then pass messages from the director of football to his head coach.
This is not the done thing in Scottish football. Not one bit. We still have a long way to go before the director of football and its all-encompassing role is understood and accepted.
But let’s break this down.
A young, inexperienced manager is watching his patchwork outfit struggle against the second best team in the country. His highly experienced superior - that’s right SUPERIOR - is watching from the vantage point of the stand. Having managed big clubs and his country this former manager is in a position to pass on advice.
HOW DARE HE.
When interviewed by BT after the game Ian Cathro was nonplussed about the situation. He explained, quite rightly, that they are a team and he is comfortable about the structure.
Why wouldn’t he be? Craig Levein is a sounding board, he can offer ADVICE, provide a different INSIGHT, a different voice. He can provide HELP. Again, Cathro works UNDER him. There should be little issue about a director of football speaking and consulting with his manager.
What is the difference between a director of football giving his input and the assistant manager giving his input?