Each side started the season pretty well, relatively speaking. In their first three games following promotion from the Championship, Dundee earned a deserved opening-day draw against St Mirren despite playing the closing stages of the match with ten men and then held Hibs to a point in a pulsating encounter at Dens Park. They also knocked Motherwell out of the Premier Sports Cup.
Aberdeen, meanwhile, after thumping BK Hacken in Europe, started their season with two wins and a point at currently-unbeaten Hearts.
Since then, however, things have been increasingly bleak for both sets of supporters and they go into this contest as two of the most consistent teams in the country – and not in a good way. Aberdeen haven’t won in nine; Dundee have one win in ten.
So what went wrong? Well, to borrow another pop-culture reference: they were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think whether they should.
Let’s look back to the final days of the transfer window. Aberdeen appeared pretty much done in terms of transfer business with the exception of maybe one more attacker (with pace) and a defender to replace Andrew Considine, who injured his knee in the away loss to Qarabag which helped send Stephen Glass’ men out of Europa Conference League qualifying.
So Marley Watkins and David Bates arrived – and so too did Austin Samuels and Matty Longstaff. All have strong pedigrees. All (except Bates) look decent additions, but the blend is no longer right. Glass seemed to have found something earlier in the year with a narrow 4-4-1-1 starring Jay Emmanuel-Thomas as the sure-footed No.10. Since these signings, however, the team hasn’t functioned as a whole the way it previously did.
The signing of Leigh Griffiths by Dundee could likewise be classed as subtraction by addition. Jason Cummings was looking hot at the start of the season and it already appears, as many expected, that the two goal-poachers are not suited to playing up-top together. Cummings’ form has taken a dip and Griffiths has struggled with fitness (shock) and his behaviour (double shock) thus far following his return to the club.
Both Glass and his counterpart James McPake are in desperate need of a result, maybe more so Glass, even if his opponents are winless so far. If Aberdeen conspire to lose this game, they would remain in eighth place but could be as little as two points off the bottom of the table. Even though it’s only nine games, that would set off alarm bells everywhere for a team who were supposed to challenge for third.
There’s a little more leeway for McPake, who just needs to avoid relegation to keep his job, though the longer this winless start to the season goes on the harder it’ll be to retain the optimism and sense of unity required to haul themselves out of trouble.
Each manager needs to rediscover the right blend for their team, otherwise it could be a short season for them and a long one for their club.