Player of the match
There were a number of strong performances amongst the Aberdeen squad with Ryan Hedges and Marley Watkins causing Hearts all sorts of problems. Dylan McGeouch played an understated role in midfield. However, Scott Brown was the best player on the pitch. He stood out as someone who had clearly played football at a much higher level but had been plonked into a situation where he was to show those on the pitch what it takes to reach such a level.
In the first half, short clearance aside in the build-up to the Hearts penalty, the former Celtic captain displayed his awareness and game-reading ability to make sure he was well placed on crosses, while stepping in or showing strength against Armand Gnanduillet. After the break he brought that swagger to the midfield, took a leaf out of Graeme Souness’ book to plant a big flag in the middle of the pitch as if to say ‘the midfield is mine’. He, alongside McGeouch, gave Aberdeen a platform to build and then attack Hearts. When the ball came back he won the ball and recycled it.
His class was evidenced at the far side of the pitch, beside the corner flag on his own touchline, as he turned away from Barrie McKay with ease. And the canny side of the game displayed when pushing Ryan Hedges into Beni Baningime to allow Lewis Ferguson to get free for the winner. Was it a foul? Yes. Would you want to see your team be so clever at set-pieces? Also yes.
A captain’s performance.
One of the great features of Pittodrie is the fencing which separates the home fans and the visiting support. It’s a throwback. A symbol of two tribal gangs being separated. This small, thin fence preventing anarchy from running riot. It allows supporters on both sides to act braver than they normally would, knowing fine well no one is scaling the cage, especially with stewards and police in close attendance. When a goal is scored it is only natural to ignore the celebrations on the field to make a bee-line for the fence. To bang it and bam up the opposition fans, all the while knowing fine well they could easily repay the favour later in the game. It adds an element of edge to proceedings, to the atmosphere. However, perhaps due to incidents from games in the past at Pittodrie, a tarpaulin banner has been put in place to put even more distance between both sets of fans.
As for players. Hearts winger Gary Mackay-Steven at his former club was given a start having been on the bench during the week. Up against Funso Ojo, he failed to test the Dons defence with his pace and skill and hooked before the hour mark. A player who needs to show up more for the Tynecastle club.
Aberdeen had been slightly the more positive team in the first half and the more likely to score with Dylan McGeouch impressing. Hearts struggled to get their attackers in the game with Josh Ginnelly well marshalled and the aforementioned Mackay-Steven on the periphery. Armand Gnanduillet was wanting the ball in behind or for it to be crossed in. Without Liam Boyce, Barrie McKay and Ben Woodburn no one was coming towards the ball to link the midfield with attack.
Then, right before half-time, a harmless looking John Souttar pass was cleared by Scott Brown but it didn’t go far, Gnanduillet picking it up and playing a lovely pass through to Ginnelly who was upended by Joe Lewis.
At that moment, you are perhaps thinking ‘that is a key turning point’. It was. But not in the way many were expecting.
The goal right on half-time prompted Stephen Glass to tweak the system. Scott Brown was pushed into a midfield role as the Dons switched from 3-4-1-2 to 4-4-2 with Lewis Ferguson playing narrow on the left and Ryan Hedges a free role from the right. They dominated the start of the second half and pinned Hearts back. Michael Smith was up against it down the right for the visitors as Dean Campbell pushed forward, Marley Watkins drifted wide and even Hedges switched wings. The Northern Ireland full-back resembled a dazed cartoon character with question and exclamation marks above his head.
It was fluid, it was quick and it was exciting.
Glass deserves huge praise for the tweak and the style of play he wants to implement at Pittodrie.
When Kevin Clancy is assigned a match you could imagine there would be some nervous glances from both sets of teams, especially at the end of a week which has seen plenty of refereeing decisions under the microscope. Yet, over the piece he got all the major decisions right. Aberdeen wanted a penalty for a shot which hit Stephen Kingsley on the arm but his hands were by his side, while he was probably right to send Andy Halliday off for a late challenge on Lewis Ferguson right at the end where he missed the ball, came in with pace and caught him high on the ankle.
Gave us a giggle
There was the reaction to Craig Gordon's incredible save to deny Christian Ramirez. A mixture of respect, awe and disbelief. Then there was the crowd singing songs to the tunes of Oasis’ She’s Electric, Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. An eclectic mix.
But a shout out to the always excellent Aberdeen programme who revealed the last time the club had three scheduled league games on consecutive Saturdays at 3pm was back in December 1984. It was also noted there were SIX home games in a row in February 2011. “The programme editor still hasn’t recovered...” it read.