A team that has consistently challenged for European football in almost all of the near-eight years current manager Derek McInnes has been in charge, standards are understandably high.
Those benchmarks, right now, are not being hit. Not in the eyes of a growing number of supporters and, you wonder, in the eyes of owner Dave Cormack.
Saturday’s 2-0 defeat by Hibs at Easter Road leaves the Dons in fourth place in the Premiership, five points behind their Edinburgh rivals. Aberdeen have a game in hand on them, but it’s against Celtic. The champions may be misfiring, but Aberdeen’s engine is barely turned on.
Third and fourth places both carry entry into the Europa Conference League, but the value of third could become so much greater if the team that finishes first or second in the league wins the Scottish Cup, or indeed if the Scottish Cup is cancelled. That would push the third-placed team into the Europa League play-off round and guaranteed participation in Europe until December with a parachute into the aforementioned, newly-created competition.
In short, the stakes are high this season, and Aberdeen feel they should be beneficiaries of any European prizes. After all, they have raised Scotland’s coefficient with their own performances on the continent in recent years.
McInnes looked far from a defeated man when addressing the press in the wake of the 2-0 reversal in the capital, secured by a Martin Boyle double. But his position is under real scrutiny, of that there is no question. Dismayed by the team’s stuffy style and inability to play especially attractive football, Aberdeen’s supporters are becoming increasingly discontent. Fourth place is no disaster, but many are questioning the progress under McInnes. Stagnation, perhaps even regression. Season-ticket renewals could be interesting at Pittodrie given the current rancour.
If Cormack and his fellow directors do decide to act, they would need to shell out the best part of £1million to pay off the coaching staff. That’s a lot of money to dispense with a team that has clocked up seven consecutive top-four finishes. However, McInnes is not Cormack’s darling. Previous owner Stewart Milne appointed him and when he left, so did some of the goodwill towards him from the Aberdeen hierarchy. Cormack has repeatedly stated that he wants Aberdeen to have an identity, emphasised by their “AberDNA” project. The current image isn’t likely to fit Cormack’s vision.
“The manager is always going to be the one forced into carrying the faults for his players,” Aberdeen winger Jonny Hayes said after the Hibs defeat. “We know as a group – and we’ve had talks about it – that we’ve not been good enough. Simple as. Players have to bear the responsibility. You can’t just say ‘it’s the manager’. We’re not playing well enough and we need to rectify that fast."
As the eighth anniversary of McInnes’ Pittodrie appointment approaches, him making that milestone is in jeopardy. Losing to Hibs is no sackable offence, but the Dons just did not look right. Watching them toil at Easter Road, it felt like an era is coming to an end. McInnes, for all his previous success, must be running out of time to turn Aberdeen’s fortunes around.