Craig Cairns and Craig Fowler give their take on the first of the Betfred Cup semi-finals.
Aberdeen’s defensive frailties
Going into this match, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Aberdeen defence is one of their strongest areas. Their previous two fixtures saw them record 4-0 victories and today’s win means they have now chalked up three clean sheets in their previous four matches. Looking back over previous seasons, clean sheets has been the starting point for success in Derek McInnes’ side. Look a little closer and you will see all is not well with the central defensive partnership this season.
Anthony O’Connor has been a stalwart at the heart of the Aberdeen backline since he made himself a regular but the problem lies with whoever partners him. Ash Taylor oscillates between stretches of form that have the Tartan Army enquiring about his Scottish granny and grave blunders that frustrate the Aberdeen faithful. Mark Reynolds came into the side in Taylor’s absence against Morton but was at fault a number of times. He allowed Jai Quitongo in for his best chance of the match and was found wanting on several other occasions, including stepping out to play offside when O’Connor was dropping deep to curtail the danger. CC
Gavin Gunning is on the road to redemption
After joining Morton, the centre-back expressed surprise at his struggle to find a club – as if picking up the ball mid-game and walking off the park (and ultimately out the door) at his former side was the most normal thing in the world. Jim Duffy took a chance on him and so far the gamble has paid off. He’s been solid in every game he’s featured in so far, including a revenge victory over Dundee United in the previous round, and he impressed again in the face of relenteless Aberdeen pressure. NIall McGinn would ultimately make him look flat-footed at the second goal, but overall he showed why a string of managers have tried to untap his undoubted potential. CF
Aberdeen’s fluid front three
Predictably, Aberdeen started with James Maddison, Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn behind striker Adam Rooney. Less predictable was their movement as the match progressed. The three interchanged continuously as Aberdeen made a blistering start. Morton eventually got to grips with them, forcing them wide and conceding set-pieces, as Aberdeen’s influence on the match waned. It was from set-pieces that Aberdeen looked their most dangerous, with Maddison’s deliveries providing early chances for Hayes and Kenny McLean, and later O’Connor. Even though the attacking trio lost a bit of their vigour, they always carried a threat and eventually proved too strong for a spirited Morton side. CC
The man-of-the-match has to be from the winning side
Football’s individual accolade is turning into an American-style Most Valuable Player award, which by definition is given (almost exclusively) to someone on the winning side. If you had to pick an Aberdeen player for man-of-the-match then yes, fair enough, Kenny McLean is an understandble selection. There were no stand-out candidates, after all. But there’s little doubt the true award deserved to go to someone in blue and white. Either captain Thomas O’Ware, or midfielders Andy Murdoch and Jamie Lindsay, would have been much more deserving. CF
After a shaky start, Morton stifled Aberdeen in central areas
Once the early storm was weathered, Morton struck upon a shape that pushed Aberdeen wide and denied Hayes the space he found centrally early in the match. They did this so effectively the much-hyped Maddison failed to make much of an impression from open play. Aberdeen are well-known for their strength in wide areas however the Morton wide players aided their full-back sufficiently in stopping the likes of Hayes and McGinn. When Aberdeen did attack the centre later in the match, Gunning and Thomas O’Ware were there to nudge their opponents off the ball or provide last-ditch blocks. Even the two goals they conceded had a bit of misfortune about them. The first should have been flagged offside, while the second came when Morton were chasing the game. CC