Aberdeen FC: 463 Minutes of Aberdonian Agony
Times at Pittodrie are bleak, with Aberdeen going 463 minutes without scoring a single goal. Calum Muldoon explores why this could be the case and whether it is likely to continue.
What was louder, the howling winds in the North East or the collective groan of Aberdeen fans as they watched their team fail to score for the 463rd consecutive minute? Quite possibly the fans, and with a trip to Glasgow to face an improving Celtic on Wednesday, their misery could quite possibly continue. But what is the reason for this goal drought at Pittodrie?
You could say a lack of coordination and skill on the pitch was the explanation but if you wanted to delve deeper into the matter, you can blame the club’s long-term goals and its mindset. There are many people that keep the cogs turning at Aberdeen – whether you are a board member or a player, you have a part to play in the running of the Dons. However, one thing is certainly missing from them all – ambition. As of late, it feels like Aberdeen have hit their peak, that being third place in the Scottish Premiership. As fans fear for the worst ahead of their match against the defending champions, they are starting to ask some big questions: why is this way of thinking in place to begin with and what else could possibly be sinking one of the most successful Scottish teams outside of Glasgow?
The club has become a shadow of its former self. For one, you can compare the current Aberdeen squad to the players that were involved in their 2013/14 Scottish League Cup-winning campaign. The players that triumphed in the competition, overcoming Inverness in a gruelling penalty shootout in the final, returned to Aberdeen as heroes, with the victory parade being attended by over 70,000 people. The success was so widely celebrated, that many earmarked this team as the best Aberdeen side since Sir Alex Ferguson’s European Cup Winners Cup team of 1983. The team included players such as Ryan Jack, who now plays for champions elect Rangers; Adam Rooney, who was the Premiership’s top scorer the following season; and Jonny Hayes, who became a first team regular at a rampant Celtic before returning to Aberdeen in 2020. This team has been picked apart and changed completely, but one constant has been manager Derek McInnes, who has remained in his post since that famous victory. Can you blame him for this recent slump? That answer is not that simple.
Over the years, McInnes has shaped Aberdeen into real contenders for silverware. Out of his seven full seasons in charge, McInnes has lead the Dons to five third-place finishes in the league – in context, Aberdeen had only finished third once in the 17 years prior to the appointment of McInnes in April 2013. However, in recent seasons, Aberdeen’s grip on the “best of the rest” title has slipped out of their firm grip, with the likes of Hibernian and, at one point, Kilmarnock, nipping at their heels. As it stands, the Dons will finish outside the top three for the third season in a row. Why? McInnes’ style of play has become outdated. Despite having worked up for a number of seasons, teams at the top have Aberdeen figured out and McInnes has struggled to adapt his tactics to stay one step ahead of the competition. However, while his style of play has become somewhat predictable and ineffective, a number of other factors have lead to Aberdeen’s downfall, so placing all the blame on McInness would be unfair.
The club’s mentality has also set them back massively. After so many years of claiming third, the club seems to have settled on the fact that they are unable to find a crack in the Old Firm’s armour, with a lack of resources available to the Dons that could see them compete for the title of even split the two Glasgow clubs to claim second. Since establishing a comfortable position as third-best, the club relaxed, giving up pushing the Glasgow teams and as such, giving themselves nowhere to go but backwards. Desperate to return to domestic cup glory, supporters are fed up with the team’s inability to progress. Chairman Dave Cormack stated that it is costing the club £14 million to survive in these uncertain times and while they pulled in £6 million from transfers, they still have to tap into their savings to stay afloat. This means that Aberdeen are unable to answer their supporters’ demands for success, as money for new signings will be extremely limited. Overall, there seems to be a disparity between the board and the fans as to what “success” means – while third place isn’t bad, this can only be acceptable for so long before you need to progress.
On the pitch, their lack of goals paints a vivid picture as to how performances have been recently. Aberdeen have been lacklustre with the ball to say the least and even with the adverse weather conditions they faced against St. Mirren, the Dons only managed a success rate of 10% in terms of their crosses – woeful. New loanee Florian Kamberi may have injected a bit of life into the Dons’ front line, but goals still escaped them, making it five painstaking matches in a row without a goal. On a good day, Kamberi would usually find the back of the net from inside the box, but when the men providing the Albanian with the chances are lacking in terms of form and confidence, goals will remain elusive.
McInnes has argued that had his new striking trio of Kamberi, Fraser Hornby and Callum Hendry had arrived at Pittodrie before transfer deadline day, their fate may have already changed for the better. While these new signings will likely provide goals soon, it might be too little, too late for Aberdeen, as Hibs sit four points clear of their competition, while also having a game in hand after this coming weekend.
The last few games have shown that Aberdeen’s dominant run as the third-best team in the country is coming to a standstill. They might not be plummeting down the league just yet, but are beginning to pick up speed and will begin to fall freely, barring significant change. It is hard to tell whether ending McInnes’ tenure will make much of a difference or not. If the board do opt to make a change in the dugout, they would also need to completely overhaul the midfield and go about securing signings on a permanent basis more frequently. These changes would be hard to come by, with the pandemic creating significant debts that Cormack will be hard pressed to repay any time soon.
The current state of Aberdeen is nothing like how fans in 2014 expected it to be. They dreamed of their team repeating their League Cup success in the future but alas, that dream has not come to fruition and the club have left its fanbase in limbo and hungry for more.