Ash Taylor returns to the heart of the Aberdeen defence today just in time to face the toughest challenge since joining the club from Tranmere Rovers in the summer of 2014.
Today’s lunchtime kick-off marks the tenth time the centre-back, who has just recovered from a thigh injury, will have faced Celtic with the record standing at just two wins and seven defeats from the previous encounters.
The Premiership leaders have scored a not inconsiderable 21 goals in those matches but Taylor believes the squad Brendan Rodgers has assembled now carry even more of an attacking threat than the line-ups he encountered in the previous two seasons.
Back then it seemed that, if Leigh Griffiths wasn’t scoring, then Celtic weren’t scoring but none of his eight goals this season have come since claiming one in the 4-1 defeat of the Dons at Parkhead in August. Instead Scott Sinclair is the division’s leading marksman with eight league goals while Moussa Dembele has 15 in all competitions in just 21 appearances for the club.
The consolation for Taylor is that Derek McInnes has also constructed a pool of players with greater depth to it, which is why he believes the Dons can become the first Scottish side to defeat the defending champions this season.
However he acknowledges the degree of difficulty when it comes to repeating last season’s home double success against Celtic because the opposition’s threat is much more widespread than just their prolific strikers.
“It’s the biggest challenge I’ve faced because their midfield and strikers tend to rotate better now so you’ve got to stay fully concentrated for the full 90 minutes and look for their threats” admits Taylor.
“Their wingers come in, their midfielders bomb forward and the rotations are really good from them so we’ve just got to stay focused from start to finish and do our job.
“Their strikers are in form and they’ve got a bit of confidence. We’ve just got to stay concentrated and look to stop them. You know what strikers are like when they are confident, they feel like they can score at any given moment so we’ve just got to stay switched on. But we beat them twice here last season so I don’t see why we can’t do it again. We’ve got the squad to do it, so we can talk about their threat but we’ve also got threats in our team as well that can cause them problems.”
McInnes and his players will certainly hope that’s the case as the midweek defeat at Hamilton leaves the club six points worse off than at the same stage a year ago. Another loss at lunchtime would see Celtic move ten points clear of their opponents with a game in hand but there was some consolation from the midweek card for the team who have finished clear runners-up in the past two seasons.
Hearts, Rangers and St Johnstone all failed to take full advantage of Aberdeen’s slip-up and Taylor added: “You’ve just got to look at Wednesday night’s results as teams didn’t capitalise on us losing points so it just shows what kind of league this is. You’ve also just got to look at last year to see how quickly it can turn. We need a good level of performance like we have done the last few games and you can see a lot of things change.”
Overall McInnes has been pleased with the form his players have shown this season and believes they will only get better.
“The 4-0 at Kilmarnock was as good as we have played in a while and the same score against Ross County was down to a sparkling performance at times,” he said. “We said to the players before the Hamilton game that there are different ways to get three points and you can’t always be brilliant.
“What we have to do is keep finding ways to win at difficult venues and I still think there is more to come from us.”