John McGinn will be hoping he does not have cause to reconsider his opinion after this weekend’s League Cup semi-final but on the evidence of the last two Premiership outings, he says it is easier to play against Celtic than Aberdeen.
Given the treble winners’ dominance at domestic level over more than a season, there are few in the game who will agree. But after scoring twice against the Glasgow side on their own patch a couple of weeks ago and coming within ten minutes of gaining the victory before settling for a draw, McGinn, pictured, said they could have played “for an extra 20 minutes and still not scored” against Derek McInnes’ men on Saturday.
“It was probably as hard a test as we’ve had all season,” he said following the 1-0 home defeat. “And we went to Ibrox and Celtic Park. Celtic would tell you they were a bit tired against us the other week after Anderlecht, but Aberdeen are so strong in so many departments – even their bench.”
In an enthralling tussle, there was little between two sides who both believed they could get the three points. Had Aberdeen been less in control defensively or Hibernian more clinical, the scoreline could have been different. But the fact is that, while the Leith side huffed and puffed, aside from a Vykintas Slivka effort which rebounded back off the post in the 24th minute, they never really looked like blowing Aberdeen aside.
They pressed and took territorial advantage in the second half but Aberdeen were equal to them, restricting them to a few shots on target and smothering the vast majority of their advances.
“It’s annoying,” admitted McGinn, who showed energy and drive but, along with his team-mates, failed to find any cut to go with his thrust. “Sometimes we are better when teams open out on us and we have a lot of space.”
But there is a reason Aberdeen are undefeated in the league and sitting joint top of the table, alongside Celtic, who they face in their next league fixture. Once again, they were organised, functioned well as a unit and put their bodies on the line to snuff out Hibs and counter with attacks of their own.
“For example, Martin Boyle was a bit cramped today with no space to get forward,” added McGinn, who was also closely monitored throughout by Kenny McLean. “The different tests are good. But our home form really needs to improve. We have to be better in the final third.”
That blunt edge was the only cause for frustration for manager Neil Lennon, who admitted that they had lost out to a top team and a moment of real quality as the guests carved out the only goal of the game.
McLean had picked up the ball in the middle of the park in the 36th minute and played a perfectly weighted ball forward for Gary Mackay-Steven, who was having his best match yet in the red shirt. The winger cut inside and showed great composure to slot a low shot across Ross Laidlaw and inside the back post.
“In training the last couple of weeks, he’s been excellent,” said striker Adam Rooney of the Aberdeen wideman. “I always rated him a top player and I think he showed that but it’s difficult for some lads when they come to a new club, to try to adapt, to know who you’re playing with, especially with us having so many new bodies. Everyone is trying to find their feet.”
Ominously, they appear to be doing that while still giving very little away, in terms of points or even goals, with Rooney admitting that they believe they are capable of getting a result against anyone in Scotland.
“We worked very hard to make sure we cut down the number of chances we give away and, thankfully, we know we have enough players in the team to score goals.
“We’ve looked like we’re improving as all the lads are gelling.
“The confidence is there and we’re growing as a team.”