ABERDEEN’S season is in danger of imploding!
Four games without a win, only one goal scored, slipping further behind Rangers in the race for second and now have Hibs loitering just one point behind them having initially been eight in front of Neil Lennon’s men.
Throw in an inept home performance against Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup, where it can be argued that they were fortunate to remain in the competition, and it’s been a poor period for the Dons. Performances have been poor, team selections have been questionable and certain players are ducking responsibility.
On Tuesday night, Aberdeen travel to Rugby Park to take on a Kilmarnock side in that Quarter Final replay who are high on confidence. Under Steve Clarke, Killie have only lost three times in 23 matches since he took over in October, have surged into the top six and have totally transformed their poor home form, winning nine and drawing one of their last ten games at Rugby Park.
Add in the fact Killie have taken four points out of six against both Old Firm sides, whom Aberdeen have failed to muster a single point from in nine matches, and you could argue that the hosts are favourites going into Tuesday’s game. This is despite the fact the Dons are unbeaten in 17 matches against Killie under Derek McInnes’s stewardship, winning 15 and drawing twice.
That run has to end some time and there is a fear from many Dons supporters that it will end at the worst time possible in the only competition Aberdeen can now win, and one they haven’t won since 1990!
McInnes has openly stated that the aim is that the Dons end that 28 year wait for the Cup, which should be the ambition for the club having reached the Final last season and pushed Celtic close before succumbing to an injury time winner by Tom Rogic. That in itself puts enormous pressure on the players to stand up and be counted to deliver on the big game stage, and the Dons record in these matches is poor this season. Defeat to Apollon Limassol in the Europa League, Motherwell in the Betfred Cup, the aforementioned results against Celtic and Rangers, two 0-0 draws with Hearts and the recent defeat by Hibs doesn’t make good reading and brings questions on the players mentality for the bigger matches.
Tactically, question marks have to be asked about the manager in these big games. Too often, Aberdeen have been negative, standing off opponents rather than pressing them and, at times, dropping more flair, attacking players for defensive minded options. This was more prominent in games against Celtic, especially the most recent match at Pittodrie when they’d just come back off a long trip to Russia in the Europa League. Celtic have at times struggled against teams who press them high but got an easy ride that day because Aberdeen refused to do so until well into the second half when it was too late, to the frustration of the Red Army. Any title ambition went that day.
What also isn’t helping is that Aberdeen haven’t had a settled line up all season, whereas this time last year the team picked itself. McInnes has chopped and changed personnel all campaign and it’s very concerning going into the business end of the season that he doesn’t know his best line up. It can also be argued that he’s been too loyal to certain players who have underperformed this campaign. Anthony O’Connor springs to mind, no matter the level of performance he seems to be one of the first name on the team sheet, whereas others such as Greg Stewart and Chad Nwakali haven’t been given a fair run of games to establish themselves.
This is without doubt the toughest period of Derek McInnes’s reign as Aberdeen manager. Having shown his commitment to the job by turning down jobs at Sunderland and boyhood heroes Rangers, McInnes now has to win back some fans who think that things have gone stale under his management and want a fresh approach.
All the recent problems that the team have had recently need to be put to bed quickly in order for the Dons to save their season. McInnes needs to be decisive with his team selection, pick players in their natural position, ie not have Adam Rooney as a left sided midfielder or Stevie May as the lone striker where he is not suited, and have them mentally prepared to deal with the pressure that comes with this game. If Aberdeen can do that, then they are one step closer to another Scottish Cup Final and keep their hopes of a second trophy under Derek McInnes alive.
Defeat to a resurgent Kilmarnock side, and Aberdeen’s season could implode to the point where they might miss out on a European place altogether with Hibs lurking just behind them.