Thursday, 3 November 2011

Aberdeen's TV Curse

'Through my T.V, through my T.V, all my problems come..'.

The lyrics are supplied by 90's Britpop forgotten men Mansun (worth a listen by the way), the 'problems' in question come from Aberdeen Football Club. My status as a Don abroad, unfortunately means that I am largely confined to watching Aberdeen in televised matches, with my only other exposure coming through radio and BBC highlights. In recent years there have of course been peaks (1-0 vs rangers, 4-3 and 4-2 vs Celtic), but unfortunately they have been sandwiched between a number of insipid performances. Aberdeen's televised appearances are beginning to carry an air of inevitability, with their last T.V victory (to the best of my knowledge) being the enjoyable 4-2 victory over an admittedly shoddy Hibs side last October.

Sandwiched between that and Monday nights match against St Johnstone include a pair of spirited but ultimately fruitless Old Firm defeats this season, and dour draws against Hamilton and Hearts at the back end of last season. For a Don who uses such televised encounters as attempts to convert his housemates to Scottish Football, the results and performances have not made for comfortable viewing.

A visit to a St Johnstone side currently occupying fourth place in the SPL may be a difficult propoisiton for Craig Brown's men, who will nonetheless by buoyed by encouraging recent performances before the recent Old Firm double header. With Scott Vernon injured and Rory Fallon suspended, the big question for Brown will perhaps be who to start up front, with Mo Chalali having pressed his claim for a start with a hat trick in a behind closed doors friendly against Dundee United this week. Josh Magennis struck twice in the same fixture, and it will potentially be a battle between the two young strikers for a starting spot if Brown opts for 4-5-1. Jamie Langfield made his return to action after a five month lay off in the friendly, but on loan goalkeeper David Gonzalez is likely to retain his place between the sticks.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Spirited Dons Still Can't Taste Old Firm Victory

Aberdeen 1 - 2 Rangers

Gonzalez, McArdle, Mawene, Considine, Foster, Clark (Magennis, 88), Osbourne, Arnason, Fyvie (Chalali, 79), Fallon, Milsom (Mackie, 24)
Subs Not Used: Brown, Robertson, Megginson, Grimmer.

This post would have had a thoroughly different complexion had the match finished at half time. Or even after 58 minutes. Unfortunately though, it didn't. 2-1 was the final score, and you would have to say that on the balance of play it was a deserved victory for Rangers. Aberdeen looked solid at the back and tenacious in midfield, but lacked creativity and goal threat up front. Two defeats on the bounce is a somewhat illusory statistic for the Dons - in truth, two straight victories have been followed up by consecutive battling displays against the Old Firm, by no means a success but a far cry from the embarrassments of last season. The mistakes need to be cut out, and it would be nice to see Fraser Fyvie and co. being played in their correct positions, but this was still an encouraging enough display. Are things looking up for Craig Brown's Aberdeen? My head says no, my heart, as ever says.. Maybe.

-Lee Miller looks finally to have been replaced. Scott Vernon's goals have been valuable but he lacks the ability to hold the ball up. Rory Fallon's strength and ariel ability seem likely to be an asset to the team, even if he finds goals difficult to come by. The red was unfortunate but I didn't think that there was much in it.

-Kari Arnason is a player. Tenacious, composed, aggressive, skillful and capable of playing a pass - he appears to have it all and is one of the most well rounded players I have seen at the club in years. Getting him tied down to a longer term contract needs to be a priority.

-The teams partnerships in the centre of the park are looking more settled. Considine and Mawene compliment each other well, as do Osbourne and Arnason. It's a shame that the team's wide positions are lacking in any such balance .

- Andrew Considine has improved a lot and now looks to be a vital member of our defence. He had an impressive match at centre back and looks to be forming a good partnership with Youl Mawene.

-Darren Mackie has always been a worthy member of Aberdeen's squad, for his energy and work rate if nothing else. It is impossible to ignore how much he has slowed down since returning from injury though. It would be unfair to make him a scapegoat but his role in the squad needs to be looked at.

-Rory McArdle should not be playing at full back. This was far from an abysmal showing from the Northern Irishman but he quite simply is not quick enough and was beaten time after time for pace. Ryan Jack or Chris Clark should be ahead of him in the pecking order there, particularly if Clark persists in forgetting how to pass a football in his stints in the centre of midfield.

-We need to cut out the silly errors.

-Foster managed a lucky goal (although it was a good hit) but as a team goals look like they are going to be hard to come by. Scott Vernon can be relied upon to weigh in with a few but the rest of the team need to start chipping in.

-The commentators kept banging on about Chalali never having scored a professional goal. We get it.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

What Is The Answer? Does Brown Even Know The Question?

Another Saturday, another desperately uninspired performance from Aberdeen, with a result to match. The Dons 1-0 defeat against Motherwell was so devoid of confidence, verve and flair that it is difficult to see how Craig Brown can turn their fortunes around. Brown is a much respected figure in Scottish football but patience is starting to run out among Aberdeen's supporters, a group who are becoming depressingly accustomed to seeing their team languishing in the lower depths of the SPL table. Sacking Brown is clearly not the answer, at least at this juncture. There is little chance of notoriously tight fisted Stuart Milne shelling out for yet another compensation payment, and even if money was no object there are few obvious candidates to replace the beleaguered Dons boss. There does exist the possibility of Brown walking, but were his tenure at the club to end now it leave a proud career effectively tarnished.

So without the option of a change in management, how can Aberdeen's fortunes change? Even ignoring Tuesday nights embarassing cup reverse against East Fife their start to the season has been utterly dismal. Statistics tell part of the story - eleven goals conceded from 9 matches is hardly shocking, but just four goals scored in the same period (none away from home) clearly is. Bizarrely Aberdeen's defence was a laughing stock last season, epitomized in the 9-0 defeat to Celtic. Brown and Knox seemed to have stabilised it, while sacrificing any attacking thrust in the process. Part of the problem is personnel - Aberdeen's two main creators in Chris Maguire and Sone Aluko have departed without being replaced by players of a similar ilk. When Richard Foster is your most potent attacking threat it becomes clear that something must be done.

A good start would be utilizing the talent at his disposal. Aberdeen are rich in centre backs and central midfielders, yet desperately bare in wide areas - a caveat that has seen the aforementioned Foster playing as a makeshift left winger. A switch to three central defenders may seem an obvious solution. Andrew Considine and Rory McArdle have proved to be an able partnership in the past and the addition of Youl Mawene's experience and reading of the play would compliment them well, and also allow Kari Arnason to move into midfield, where his composure and creativity could be taken full advantage of. In Ryan Jack, Ricky Foster and Chris Clark, Brown also possesses three versatile widemen who are equally capable of playing at full back or in midfield. They would slot easily into a system featuring wing backs. With the likes of Osbourne, Fyvie, Milsom, Arnason and the soon to return Folly Brown has a number of central midfielders to call upon, all possessing relatively different qualities.

The main problem would remain up front. Rory Fallon netted his first goal for the club in midweek but looked ineffective against Motherwell. Scott Vernon had a fantastic first season at the club but has been desperately starved of service this season. Darren Mackie's merits and faults are widely publicised and Brown seems oddly reluctant to use new signing Mohamed Chalali. Unfortunately he is stuck with what he has, but I for one am convinced that with the right service from midfield Vernon is capable of scoring enough goals.

It may seem churlish to advise an experienced football manager on how to set up his team, but something must be done. While Brown's dalliances with 3 man backlines have ended disastrously in the past, the teams increased solidarity this season would make such a change in system easier to implement. The addition of an extra central midfielder would constitute an increase in creativity, theoretically at least.

Friday's televised match against Dunfermline is seen by many as a must win match for Brown. While it would be a risk to experiment, something has clearly got to change if Aberdeen are to return to winning (and scoring) ways.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Aberdeen Moves That Never Were

With the summer transfer window set to slam shut in just over 24 hours Aberdeen's transfer activity looks to be firmly over, after a pre-season which has seen the arrivals of no less than seven new faces. Despite this, the most compelling narratives are often formed by transfer sagas that are not seen through to completion. Below are a few of recent memories most notable Aberdeen FC transfer nearly men.

Alan Gow
Such is journeyman forward Gow's propensity for changing clubs that it seems as though Aberdeen are one of the sides that he has not turned out for. A joke perhaps, but one rooted in reality - Gow has appeared for eleven clubs so far in an eleven year career, failing to complete more than three seasons at a single team, and making no more than 17 appearances for any single club in the last four years. No transfer window is complete for Aberdeen fans without an obligatory link with the 28 year old and the ongoing saga has become something of a joke among several quarters of the clubs support. Although Gow possesses good technical ability, his career appears to have been reduced to a series of maybes, amid persistent doubts over his fitness. It is unlikely that he would ever have prospered in a series of uninspired Aberdeen sides, nor aided the clubs fortunes.

Lee Hendrie
It is difficult to look at Lee Hendrie's 16 year career without a certain degree of sympathy. The recipient of 12 England under 21 caps and a respectable five goals, Hendrie made over 250 Premier League appearances for Aston Villa and appeared to have the world at his feet after winning the clubs Young Player of the Season award in 1998, as well as making his full International debut in the same year. At first glance you would be forgiven for assuming that Aberdeen would jump at the chance of signing such a decorated player, but last summer Mark McGhee opted to sign Paul Hartley instead, despite Hendrie impressing during a brief trial period. After a short spell at Bradford Hendrie is now making waves in the Indonesian league for Bandung, a pair of moves that hint at the quality of other offers that he received. Even had he joined Aberdeen it is difficult to see him making a success of himself - Paul Hartley arrived as a somewhat messianic figure and even he left with his tail between his legs, preferring semi retirement as player manager at Alloa to another year with the Dons. It's fair to say that Lee may have dodged a bullet last summer.

Russell Anderson
Former Aberdeen captain and fan favourite Russell Anderson has endured something of a torrid time since joining Roy Keane's Sunderland for £1 million in 2007. Anderson managed just a single league appearance for the Black Cats in an injury hit three years before moving on to Derby County in 2010, where he has found himself in and out of a struggling team. Predictably, in the wake of Anderson's tribulations south of the border there has been much talk of a return to the club where he made his name. In recent years Aberdeen have lacked a mature presence at the back and were rumored to have had a bid accepted for their ex-captain last season. Anderson however has frequently spurned advances from Scottish outfits, and seems to have ambitions of making it in England, however much his International prospects seem to have diminished since leaving Pittodrie. In any case, experienced centre back Youl Mawene arrived at Aberdeen this summer, appearing to curtail any prospect of Anderson returning to his former club - in the near future at least.

Kevin Kyle
Much maligned for his misadventures in England in the colours of Sunderland and Coventry, Kyle was an unexpected success at Kilmarnock in his eighteen months at the club, scoring 16 goals in 43 appearances. As his contract ran down, former Aberdeen boss Mark McGhee went public with his interest in signing the striker on a bosman as a replacement for Middlesborough-bound Lee Miller. After a torturous series of negotiations amid interest from several other SPL clubs, Kyle opted for Aberdeen's SPL rivals Hearts, reuniting him with his former Kilmarnock manager Jim Jeffries. Oddly enough Kyle's decision looks to have worked out rather well for Aberdeen - Scott Vernon was signed instead and had a good debut season for the Dons, scoring 17 goals in 47 appearances despite playing on while carrying an injury towards the end of the season. In contrast, Kyle has had an injury hit time at Hearts, making just 21 appearances and scoring a total of ten goals, with a meager four of them from open play.

James McFadden
Football fans are a notoriously opportunistic breed, which seems the most likely explanation for the rumours linking Scottish international James McFadden with a move to Aberdeen this summer. After a season plagued with injuries he was released following Birmingham's relegation to the Championship, and despite the new season already having kicked off has so far failed to find a new club. McFadden would of course be a fantastic signing for Aberdeen, and has the potential to solve both their problems with creativity and goalscoring. Unfortunate as it is though, the chances of a move to Pittodrie seem bleak at best, with the likelihood being that he would need to take a cut in pay of well over 50% to join up with Craig Brown at Aberdeen. McFadden is a fantastic player, and arguably still has a lot to offer at Premier League level. With Everton desperately short on cash it does not seem outrageous to link him with a move back to Goodison Park, and a reconciliation with former manager David Moyes.

If there is one thing that immediately jumps out from the above names, it is that all of are experiencing something of a downturn in fortunes. Aberdeen realistically cannot sign established, successful players anymore - even McFadden is vastly out of Craig Brown's reach, with more realistic targets likely to be found in the lower reaches of the English league, as well as abroad. If there is one comfort to be taken from the situation, it is that the rest of Scotland is in the same boat - even the Old Firm can barely compete with teams in the Championship, while the rest of the league are left competing with Aberdeen for the pick of football's failures and free agents.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Down and Out in Edinburgh

Four matches played. One point. Zero goals scored. Five goals conceded. The stats still do not look good for Aberdeen manager Craig Brown and his under-pressure group of players. By all accounts Hearts were lucky to win as comfortably as they did but is worrying to see at least some form of defensive frailty added to a set of attacking players who have desperately struggled to create chances this season, let alone convert them. A number of triallists are being looked at, including Algerian under 23 international Mohamed Chalali but there is no guarantee that any will be an improvement on the current crop of strikers and some even point to the true problem being a lack of creativity in midfield - a point that I would tend to agree with. Scott Vernon and Darren Mackie have both proved that they can score goals in the SPL (in Mackie's case, with not quite the same level of regularity). They need service in order to put the ball in the back of the net. With injuries mounting things are not looking good, its still early days but Aberdeen need to start getting points on the board in order for confidence to start flowing again. Inverness on Saturday would be a great place to start.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Doom And Gloom

Aberdeen 0 - 1 Celtic

Gonzalez, McArdle, Arnason, Considine, Foster, Pawlett (Paton, 72), Osbourne, Milsom, Magennis (Megginson, 82), Mackie (Low, 87), Vernon

The stats do not make comfortable reading for Aberdeen. Three matches played, no wins, no goals and just a single point, gained in an opening day draw hosting St. Johnstone. At this point last year the Dons had two wins out of three, and were buoyed by the impact of new captain Paul Hartley, who scored a hat trick of penalties on his debut.

There is significantly less to be optimistic about this time around. While Aberdeen's performance on Sunday was solid, showing the grit and defensive solidarity that was at times absent last season, they need to start getting points on the board soon. The dons managed just 3 shots on target, and more worryingly just 38% of the possession. While they were largely able to limit Celtic to long range shots and were unlucky to lose, there was a worrying tendency to squander possession. Robert Milsom impressed after signing a temporary deal last season, but looks to have stagnated. He has decent technique and can pass the ball but lacks the creative spark sorely needed following Chris Maguire's departure, and often requires more space and time on the ball than can be afforded against the top teams. Darren Mackie has added plenty of endeavor since his return from injury, but lacks the vision and skill of Maguire - who is still yet to be adequately replaced.

Of course there are hopeful signs for Aberdeen - most obviously the defence. Parallels with the 9-0 humbling against Celtic last season are obvious, and while a defeat is not an ideal result Aberdeen rarely looked like conceding on Sunday and were, on the whole very well organized. Kari Arnason, only playing at centre back due to Youl Mawene's injury looked a class above, and helped Andrew Considine to one of his better performances in recent memory. Craig Brown has stated that he sees Arnason as playing in midfield for the Dons, but on the strength of yesterday's fine performance he could easily slot in at the back when required. Rory McArdle was also out of position at right back but had a good game, managing to keep Joe Ledley very quiet and rarely looking exposed.

It seems unfair to blame new captain Ricky Foster for the defeat on the back of one error, but it was his dallying on the ball that handed Celtic their best chance of the match, one that was ultimately converted. Foster looked uncomfortable at left back, often going missing and leaving Kris Commons unmarked. His pace is a valuable asset but he simply isn't enough without being coupled with an able footballing brain. His distribution has improved, and now needs to be allied with a greater positional sense.

Improvement is clearly needed, but with an away clash at Hearts looming it will need to be more rapid than Craig Brown may have anticipated. The defence, for now is adequate. Creativity though is sorely needed, and unless the likes of Pawlett, Milsom and Vernon hit top form, it is looking like a barren few weeks for the Dons.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Opening Day Anticlimax

Despite much in the way of pre-season optimism at Pittodrie it was ultimately disappointment for Aberdeen in their home fixture against St Johnstone, as the ten man Dons slumped to a 0-0 draw. Despite the less than thrilling result there were some reasons for positivity from Craig Brown's men, who dominated the proceedings.

Despite hints in pre-season that he would revert to a 3-5-2 formation, the Aberdeen boss reverted to a more familiar 4-4-2 shape with new captain Richard Foster occupying the left hand side of defence and Darren Mackie partnering Scott Vernon up front. Encouragingly for Dons fans, Fraser Fyvie started in midfield after a long lay off last season and looked bright, coming desperately close to scoring with a lofted cross shot. Richard Foster also came close with a long range banana shot and a free kick, but the fact that much of the teams adventurous play was coming from their much maligned left back will not dissuade many fans fears that their team is lacking in flair. The need for reinforcements up front was also reinforced by the misadventures of Darren Mackie and Josh Magennis, both of whom missed gilt edged chances despite looking industrious. Ryan Jack's red card will also come as a blow, with few obvious replacements at right back. Refreshingly though it came not due to stupidity or petulance but enthusiasm, with Jack earning a straight red for a late lunge on Murray Davidson.

While a clean sheet is an encouraging sign for a team plagued by defensive malaise last season, the need for reinforcements up front has been emphasized by their bluntness up front. While Scott Vernon is not yet fully fit, Darren Mackie's limitations are well publicized and Craig Brown's other options are all very raw.

A draw is not the end of the world, but the Dons need to start getting points on the board with difficult fixtures against the Old Firm looming. This Saturday's trip to St Mirren would be an excellent place to start.