Why Aberdeen fans are right to have concerns about the future under Derek McInnes - is time running out?

Derek McInnes is under pressure from Aberdeen fans. Picture: SNS
Derek McInnes is under pressure from Aberdeen fans. Picture: SNS
Share this article
0
Have your say

There is a growing feeling of unrest at Pittodrie. Joel Sked looks at why Aberdeen fans have concerns about the club's progress under Derek McInnes.

READ MORE: Scottish Football LIVE: Steven Gerrard rules out Ryan Kent signing, Key Rangers duo to stay, Hearts and Hibs starlets exit on loan, Firm in tough Europa League groups

The clock has just ticked past the ninth minute mark at Pittodrie when the ball is volleyed clear from the Rijeka box into the path of Boadu Acosty. The Ghanaian picks up possession inside Aberdeen's half, yet there's only one opponent between him and Joe Lewis in the Dons goal.

It's the second-leg of the Europa League third qualifying round, Derek McInnes' men are chasing a two-goal deficit suffered in Croatia.

Within ten seconds of Acosty charging forward, they are 3-0 down. Game. Set. Match. McInnes' ambition to get Aberdeen into the group stages of the Europa League left in tatters.

It is a goal which epitomises the disorder and confusion swirling around the club in terms of their on field output. And, for the first time since arriving in 2013, there are real concerns about the direction under the current management team.

it is not hyperbole to say Derek McInnes, with the help of Tony Docherty, has transformed the club. When he took charge of his first game, with five fixtures of the 2012/2013 season remaining, Aberdeen sat eighth - the position they would finish.

This club which had conquered Europe and Real Madrid under Alex Ferguson were on their knees. In the previous three campaigns they had finished ninth on each occasion. They had finished third once since 1996 and gone through 17 seasons without cup success.

McInnes found a club stuck in a rut, going through the motions.

“I was taken aback at how I found the club operating," he told The Times in a revealing interview.

“There was a lethargy at the club. The afternoons at Pittodrie felt very quiet when I first went in. We needed to be more efficient, more professional, more active, make our recruitment better. The club just needed energy and some inspiration and those were among the first things I set about trying to achieve.”

He has made Aberdeen a "far bigger, more dangerous animal" as he puts it. They are "far more relevant now". A third-place finish and League Cup win in his first full season, followed by four successive runners-up spots behind Celtic.

Last term, however, brought a drop to fourth with the feeling among the Dons support that they will be lucky to finish any higher this campaign.

All is not well.

His comments in that interview nearly 18 months ago hold relevance now. "Lethargy". "Energy". "Inspiration". The club had plenty of the former but lacking in the latter two in 2013. These issues are starting to creep back in now.

It appears the the positivity following the 5-0 win over Georgians Chikhura Sachkhere and 3-2 victory against Hearts at Pittodrie in the space of four days earlier this summer was misplaced.

In their past two league encounters they have barely fashioned a chance, let alone a goal, while they scraped past Championship side Dundee in the Betfred Cup, needing extra-time to do so.

READ MORE: Kilmarnock 0 - 0 Aberdeen: Stalemate at Rugby Park as Killie remain winless

But more than that it is the lack of style, game plan and general identity. Aberdeen, Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian, the three expected to challenge for third-place, all have the same issue.

At Pittodrie it has clearly led to confusion among the first-team players; many are either out of form or have just arrived and adapting to a team which is underperforming and lacks clarity with talk of mixed messages.

McInnes was wise to try and get his transfer business done early ahead of the Europa League qualifiers, but there have been few rewards as he, and the Dons support, struggle to work out what the strongest XI is going forward, not helped by injuries. Joe Lewis, Scott McKenna, Lewis Ferguson, Sam Cosgrove, perhaps Craig Bryson, are assured starters. It is the first time under the former St Johnstone boss that there are so many interchangeable elements.

It has only heightened the team's inability to play a style of football which excites fans. A style which is energetic and inspirational.

Instead it is soporific. Turgid.

Midfielders come short for passes but the defenders hit long diagonals. Three touches are taken when only one or two are required. An extra unnecessary pass or two are made slowing play down.

The performance in the 1-0 loss to St Mirren was stodgy and lifeless. The Buddies got at Aberdeen down the flanks, took a lead then defended with ease. Jim Goodwin's side dropped into a deep block and watched as their opponents passed in front of them, took no risk, showed no creativity, offered no penetration. If Aberdeen can't beat you down the wings, there is no need to worry about the centre as they don't have the craft to move opponents around and play in tight spaces.

One moment summed it up. Zak Vyner is pleading for the ball free on the right but it is worked far too slowly. Andrew Considine dallies plays into midfield but Scott Wright is pickpocketed and Saints break.

Jim Goodwin could have replaced his players with those cardboard fans St Johnstone used to have behind one of the goals at McDiarmid Park. Aberdeen would still be struggling to breakdown a defence which would be left inconsequential with a little bit of rain.

Craig Bryson may help change such plodding fare when he gets up and running but it is still not certain he is the type of player to help the Dons build from the back. It seems they are stuck. They don't have the ideas to break down a deep defence but they don't have the confidence to play through a press from the opposition.

READ MORE: 18 Premier League players Scottish clubs could sign before transfer window closes

Change, however, needs to happen quickly on the pitch as an increasing number of fans want to see drastic improvement. They are not just witnessing stagnation but regression.

A lot has been made of Craig Levein's power base at Hearts. Both himself and owner Ann Budge say he is not "bomb-proof". McInnes holds a similar amount of power at Aberdeen and is in a strong position. He has recently been awarded with a new contract, he is close to the chairman Stewart Milne and is seen as that steady hand to guide the club into their new stadium and training base.

Removing such an influential figure would be a momentous decision and not one which should be taken lightly. All managers have a shelf life but when you have a boss like McInnes who has such control it could have significant ramifications.

The most convenient result would be for McInnes to steer the ship through a turbulent time to calm waters. It is imperative that not only does he get Aberdeen back to winning ways, but in a style which energises the crowd. One which has fans looking forward to going along to Pittodrie. Not the current style which makes watching the seagulls flying in the dull skies above a more appealing option.

To do so he needs to lay out a plan for his team. A clear vision, a core he can build around and an aggressive, high-tempo style which gets the best out of the energetic midfield and pushes the attacking midfielders closer to Sam Cosgrove.

The question, however, on fans' lips is - 'does he have it in him to provide the evolution required?'

Supporters are so often patronised by both pundits and managers. Social media is blamed. As is their apparent want for instant gratification. While there is an element of that, when a sizeable portion of match-going fans are unimpressed, fed up paying through the nose to watch guff and calling for change their voice and opinion should be taken seriously.

At Pittodrie this is an issue which has been building over time. It is not just a passing stage or a whim. These concerns have been growing. Derek McInnes, despite the credit he has built up and rightfully earned, is under pressure. The next four matches, before a trip to Ibrox, are huge starting with Ross County at home on Saturday.

It could be the match which kickstarts the Dons' season and a staging post for growth. Or it could just be the beginning of the end.

READ MORE: Scottish Premiership winners and losers: Rangers fans' banner, Neil Lennon v Craig Levein, Hibs boss' comments, Livingston style, Tommy Wright, tickets prices and plastic pitches