Yokerbhoy examines the Aberdeen side who have rung the changes after a poor first half of the season…
THE ABERDEEN LADS ARE STILL FIRING BLANKS
After the joyful glee of Wednesday night, it’s back down to serious business as we head up north this Sunday to take on an Aberdeen side that is going through a very poor season by their own standards. They had been unable to put the ball in the back of the net for 454 minutes of football before they finally got what they had so desperately been striving for the other night against Hapless Hamilton.
In an effort to change their current fortunes and form, McInnes has been quite active in the winter window, bringing in ex-Celtic & Hibs midfielder Dylan McGeough from Sunderland along with Belfast born winger Matty Kennedy from St Johnstone and Venezualan international right back Ronald Hernández.
McGeough started his professional career as a promising winger for Celtic that didn’t quite manage to pin down a regular first-team place. He was, however, a key player for Hibs for around four years, where he was quite effective in a nº 10 role before developing into a consistent quality central midfielder. In contrast, his time at Sunderland wasn’t particularly fruitful, with only 30 appearances in three years so McIness’s thinking would have been to give Dylan a new opportunity (perhaps even a new lease of life) in the hope that he might recapture some of his earlier form that he showed at Hibs and add some real bite to the Pittodrie midfield. It hasn’t happened for him yet though as he has been largely ineffective when utilised.
Matty Kennedy is a decent enough player by SPFL standards, being able to operate on either wing, having a fairly good injection of pace and capable of delivering decent crosses into the danger areas. He has featured a lot in the side since his signing and has given a reasonable account of himself so far without doing anything spectacular.
The 15-times capped full back Hernández came with a bright reputation of being a tough tackler and a footballer with a great cross in him. However, after a disappointing debut at home to St Johnstone he was relegated to the bench for the following game. He’ll probably need a bit of time to adjust to Scottish football before he is able to displace Shay Logan from his right back berth but time is on his side as he’s only 22 and is on a four and a half year contract.
Regarding the Loons as a whole, there has clearly been a nervous aspect to their overall play featuring no shortage of sideways and backwards passing from defence and midfield. If they have greatly struggled to find space against lesser teams they could be in for a rather nasty time when they face us.
Their goalkeeper Lewis, who has generally been solid and consistent, together with the defence that is generally dogged and tight (although they were badly exposed when St Johnstone completely cut them open with a great through ball that led to their goal in a recent game at Pittodrie) has been one of their few saving graces of late. In other words, they haven’t been leaking many goals.
In midfield, Ferguson, Ojo, McGeough and company had been dire to watch in recent games until finally (maybe by law of averages but more likely to be thanks to the 3-5-2 formation) they hit a bit of form (at least for the first half) at New Douglas Park. Even taking Tuesday night’s improvement into account, there has been very little spark of imagination or creativity with most of the forward passing coming from hopeful big punts up the park from the defence.
There was one shining light though in the recent cup tie against Kilmarnock and that was 18 year-old starlet Dean Campbell, whose work ethic and general performance gained some highly deserved plaudits. Deployed as a left wing-back recently (he can also play in midfield), Dean was practically the only team member that didn’t seem scared to glide forward, take his man on and pick out a forward pass. He didn’t make the starting XI against Accies, however, but featured as a second half sub.
There had been a glaring lack of movement off the ball, something which had been getting worse and worse game by game, making it extremely difficult for players to find a forward pass option. Indeed, a significant part of the problem in the middle of the park for the Dons is the fact that Ferguson, Ojo and McGinn all prefer to operate in a central midfield role and sit back defensively rather than drive into space to help create openings. They tend to be too similar in style to complement each other’s play but they pleasantly surprised a lot of people by looking much hungrier and far more dynamic the other night in that 3-5-2 formation.
Cosgrove and other members of the flock seem to have lost a lot of confidence in the final third with big Sam frequently seeking physical contact with opposing defenders before flinging himself on the deck looking for penalties or free-kicks in dangerous positions. Against Killie there was a lot of huffing and duffing in the penalty area but to no avail. So poor was his form that the gaffer finally took a big decision and dropped the 21-goal forward against Hamilton, giving the nod to fellow Englishman Curtis, who was the Main man on the night with a beautifully lobbed goal and an impressive work rate. He played the game of his life in that first half but then duly petered out in the second (understandable enough when you consider his high energy levels earlier on). The provider for the other two goals (scored by McGinn and McLennan) was Andy Considine, of all people, with two long balls executed with remarkable precision. McGinn, Ojo, Devlin and Ferguson also had good games.
The Don’s latest run of form seems to follow an arithmetical sequence of 5 or 6 shit shows followed up by a decent fighting performance, i.e. 5/6 shit one good, 5/6 shit one good over and over again. Before their last match the vultures were hovering above Deek’s sour ugly heid, the wolves were howling at his door and the dogs were barking madly at his caravan. When cornered, he always seems to bring off a surprise display/result (for instance two recent fighting draws against sevco) to postpone his date of execution.
It seems that his ‘double master stroke’ of dropping the misfiring Cosgrove whilst altering his playing formation have once again saved his hide but there are fears that the general downward spiral encompassing the depressing football product on offer (truly turgid, insipid eye bleeding stuff on show week after week with next to no goals to show for their lackadaisical efforts) will once again be resumed.
It isn’t hard to imagine how demoralising it must be for the Pittodrie faithful, many of whom have probably only managed to take cheer when picking up their winnings after betting against their team scoring any goals in any given game. Still, absolutely anything can happen in our away fixture against the northerners and I fully expect the greeting-faced hun bastard to persist with the new 3-5-2 set up that did well (at least for the first 45 mins anyway) against a totally shambolic Accies side.
There may well be, however, the odd tweek in personnel with Campbell likely to be recalled to play as left wing back (his defensive qualities are considerably superior to Kennedy’s), Shay Logan being introduced as right wing back while giving Niall McGinn a free role up front to play behind and manoevering around Curtis Main (the one match wonder). Cosgrove will be expected to make an appearance from the bench in the second half, regardless of how the game is going.
Taylor, Wright and Leigh are all injured and are likely to be ruled out for this encounter. What will be a 3-5-2 in theory will probably end up looking more like a 5-3-2 but here is my own prediction for their starting line-up:
Devlin McKenna Considine
Logan McGeough Ojo Ferguson Campbell
Subs: Cerny, Hernández, Bryson, Hedges, Kennedy, McLennan, Anderson
Things are starting to really look a lot brighter these days for our Celtic Bhoys but there will be absolutely no change regarding the attitude of our manager and players towards this and other oncoming fixtures, which is exactly how it has to be.
The best thing about our recent matches though, is that good as we’ve been, there is still clear potential for further improvement through tightening things up and reducing unforced errors at the back as well as becoming just that bit more clinical in and around the box when clear-cut chances are created. That’s being a bit on the fussy side I suppose as the lads have shown some great stuff on the field and indivual players such as Taylor, Jullien and Ntcham have really upped their game.
We also have important players on the brink of a return from injury, which will undoubtedly enhance our squad while our fast and incisive passing in midfield and up front is often a delight to watch. Probably an even more decisive factor in our favour has been the relentlessness and intensity as our players are so eager to tirelessly surge forward again and again to create openings. At domestic level no team in the country can live with us on current form, which will make next Thursday’s European adventure all the more interesting. Can we cope in Copenhagan? I would definitely think so but it’ll be very interesting to see Lenny’s team selection and formation for that tie. The Danish side returned to league action of Friday night after an 8 week lay off only to lose 1-0 at second bottom club Esbjerg leaving them 4 points off the lead with a game more played.
Pittodrie is certainly no longer the fortress it used to be (they’ve won only six of their last league games at home and we’ve beaten the Dandies there in our last nine outings – nowadays we seem to play better against them on their patch than at CP) but nothing can or will be taken for granted.
The wounded red beast still has a sting in its tail and they’ll have drawn some confidence from their last result. Who knows? They might just surprise us with a spirited performance. Far from being lambs to an imminent slaughter I’m expecting quite a tough game full of resilience and hard physical challenges. They’ll be endeavouring to stifle our midfielders and do everything in their power to halt our fast flowing game in the hope of knocking our players off their stride while waiting for the odd lucky break of the ball here and there together with key refereeing decisions going their way.
As regards personnel selection and team formation for the game, it is highly improbable that Lenny would wish to fuck about with a winning formula at this moment in time so I think we can definitely expect more of the same. For ages I’ve been banging on about giving Broonie and Calmac time out to rest but it seems they don’t need or want it – I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re both supermen that can manage 50-60 games per season nae bother.
It’ll take a while before other teams learn to play against our 3-5-2 (if they ever do) but the way things are running right now, they are simply out of their depth against us when we’re in this kind of form. Defenders will be having nightmares over having to try and deal with the Edouard-Griffiths combo so this is another reason why the Dons are likely to go with 3 central defenders.
One of the biggest pluses of all is that finally we are providing a significant threat again with our direct free-kicks (with two real specialists in the side) and at corners thanks to Griff, Jullien and Jozo. We’d be quite formidable in this department if Ajer could also manage to somehow get the finger out and improve this part of his game.
In short, tomorrow will hopefully be a case of heads down, no nonsense, early goal cushion and thoroughly professional performance to exercise complete control on the proceedings. Hopefully Christie, Rogic and Elyounoussi will be able to come on and make an impact in the second half as they will be very important players for us in the run in and they have to be actively involved on match days, ready for selection at any time. Having just read the provisional squad for Sunday, the great news is that Jeremy Frimpong and Nir Bitton are both included! With so many good players coming back from injury we’re certainly going to be spoilt for choice when it comes to team selection but the strength in depth that this provides will be ideal for the run-in.
Jozo Chris Kris
James Scott Olivier Callum Greg
Subs: Scott, Jeremy, Stephen, Tom, Ryan, Johnny, Mohamed
Prediction: Sheep 0 Tic 2 (Odsonne, Griff)