The start of December marked a full year since Aberdeen parted company with Mark McGhee, and ironically it also began with the same fixture that ended McGhee’s dismal reign as manager. So, 12 months on, has new Dons boss Craig Brown made significant improvement at Pittodrie?
The obvious place to start is the game against Kilmarnock, and looking at the result and the performance things don’t appear to have changed an awful lot. The scoreline at Rugby Park on Saturday was 2-0 to the hosts, the same result that sealed McGhee’s fate in 2010. But, of course, we can’t judge someone on a single match, and the record of Brown as Aberdeen boss does certainly show improvement on the previous regime. Just.
If we compare the records of the two managers after the same number of games, 46 in total that Brown has been in charge of, there has been a small improvement in the fortunes of the Dons. However, Brown has actually lost more matches than McGhee had at the same stage of his tenure. His win percentage of 32.6% may be better than McGhee’s 28.3%, but it is far from acceptable for a club the size of Aberdeen.
It is important to highlight the fact that in McGhee’s final 16 matches at Aberdeen which followed the first 46, he would only win a further 4. Brown hasn’t quite hit such a poor run of form yet, but he really needs to start getting results on the board.
In terms of the league itself, at the time of McGhee’s sacking last year the club were sitting joint bottom, only ahead of Hamilton on goal difference. This year they find themselves rooted to the bottom, although with a greater points total. Just.
As the table illustrates, Brown’s Aberdeen have made a similarly poor start to the season as McGhee’s side did last year. The club had played 15 matches when McGhee received his P45, winning just 3 of them. Brown’s defeat to Kilmarnock on Saturday marked their 16th SPL game this season, of which they have also only won 3. It leaves Brown with a poorer win percentage so far this season than what McGhee had at the time of his departure.
The SPL is also gearing up to have a far more competitive relegation battle this season, whereas last year Hamilton were very quickly cut adrift. The Accies managed just 5 league victories all season in 2010/11, but this season every team in the league already has at least 3 wins. Aberdeen may have more points this year, but they also find themselves in a worse position in the table – and deservedly so. I’m not an Aberdeen supporter, so I haven’t seen enough of them to make a thorough assessment, but when I have witnessed them there seems to be very little improvement to the side that struggled under McGhee.
There was a clear lack of full backs at the club when the experienced manager took over, but he has done very little to remedy the situation – with Ricky Foster’s return from a loan spell at Rangers the only real difference in that area.
The departure of Chris Maguire left a void in attack that desperately needed to be filled, but new signings Rory Fallon and Mohamed Chalali have failed to deliver thus far. In fact, the Dons top scorer this season is currently Scott Vernon, who was brought to the club by Mark McGhee.
Craig Brown has occasionally highlighted the short time he as been in charge at Pittodrie, and how he needs more time to bring in his own signings and build his own side. Whilst arguably one year isn’t enough time to build a complete team, it has to be noted that Brown is actually in the top half of managers in the SPL at the moment when it comes to time in charge. Six of his competitors have had less time at their clubs, yet all sit above Aberdeen in the league. The team that Brown put out against Kilmarnock on Saturday also contained 6 of his signings in the starting line-up, and just 2 who were signed by Mark McGhee. In fact, in Mark McGhee’s final game in charge of the Dons in the same fixture last season, only 4 of the starting 11 were his signings.
There is no doubt that Aberdeen had no option but to sack Mark McGhee when they did, and the only surprise was that he lasted so long. The horrendous 9-0 defeat at Parkhead summed up his reign at Pittodrie, and the fans turned on him long before the board terminated his contract. Craig Brown still appears to have the backing of at least a percentage of the fans, and the board itself. But after the debacle which was Mark McGhee, could it have got any worse? He took over from, statistically, the worst manager in Aberdeen’s 108 year history – I think most of us would have been shocked if things HADN’T improved. But have they improved enough? As I’ve said already, I’m not an Aberdeen fan so I’m making judgements without seeing them week in week out, but personally I don’t think enough improvement has been made – and the players Brown has brought in have not been good enough.
Lack of resources and lack of time are often cited as reasons behind Brown’s failure to get results at Aberdeen, but in comparison to much of the SPL there is still a reasonable budget at Pittodrie. As I’ve already stated I don’t think 12 months is long enough to build a team, but at the same time Brown has been in charge for longer than half of the SPL managers – yet they still sit bottom of the pile.
McGhee had 18 months at the helm, and if results don’t improve drastically, and quickly, I fail to see how Brown will get much longer. He steadied the ship and secured the club’s SPL status last season, but the small improvement overall in the team’s fortunes is not really good enough, especially considering just how bad things were under McGhee. There are undoubtedly deeper problems at Pittodrie than just the management, but football is a results based business, and at the moment Craig Brown is failing to achieve in this area.