Last month’s 2-0 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat against Celtic at Hampden, along with Sundays 4-0 defeat to league leaders, Rangers, had Aberdeen fans asking themselves a similar question. Why can’t they beat the Glasgow pair when it matters the most?
Many Scottish football enthusiasts like myself thought that after the league encounter with Celtic the week before the semi-final, the dramatic 3-3 draw, there was a real sense of optimism that the Dons would finally have a go and leave nothing out on the pitch. With there being no supporters in attendance it was thought that it may also make things more neutral as the referee therefore couldn’t be influenced by the crowd and the Aberdeen players wouldn’t get the fans on their backs if something goes wrong. Which can often be the case.
Now let’s look at October’s Scottish Cup semi-final itself. First of all, the first catalyst to Aberdeen’s problem against Celtic was the fact that last season’s top goalscorer, Sam Cosgrove, was drafted into the line-up to lead the line. This was his first start since getting injured back in February and it was evident from the off that it was a gamble. There was very little of the effort and chasing down that we had seen in previous weeks from Aberdeen. Cosgrove’s influence backfired with what had been an attacking line up on paper, turning into a team who were a shadow of themselves. However, all could’ve been different perhaps if big Sam had been match sharp in advance of the game as he missed a glorious header in the box to give the Reds an early lead. That set the tone. You’ve got to be clinical against Celtic, no matter how they were performing in the run up to the semi.
In previous games this season in which Aberdeen had impressed, they had used Inverness attacker Marley Watkins as a false number nine with the pace of Scott Wright, Ryan Hedges and Jonny Hayes playing in behind. This dynamic seemed to click for the Dons, who had put together an impressive run of form going into the double header against Celtic.
It was a very disappointing result for Dons fans, especially having watched how poor Celtic’s defenders were in previous games when attackers showed belief and ran at them. To then watch Celtic be so lacklustre in their following game against Sparta Prague in the Europa League the Aberdeen camp was surely think that it was a missed opportunity. A Sparta Prague side who I must add had seven first team players out due to Covid as well as have a lot less budget than Celtic. They showed belief and a desire to win and they managed it, leaving Celtic Park with all three points after a 4-1 rout of the Scottish champions. Defender Shane Duffy and co at the back for Celtic were totally hung out to dry by the Czechs, so why couldn’t the Dons sustain that type of pressure on semi-final Sunday?
‘Brilliance’ and ‘slackness’ cost them, said Derek McInnes.
Here is an interview I conducted with an Aberdeen season ticket holder reflecting on the Scottish Cup semi-final game.
I read a stat the other day. Here’s Derek McInnes record against Celtic as a manager (in charge of both Aberdeen and St Johnstone).
Played 41 Won 6 Drawn 2 Lost 33
In seasons past the Dons have come very close with the 2017 Scottish Cup final against Celtic requiring a last-minute Tom Rogic’s goal to break Aberdeen hearts just as the game looked to be heading to extra time. It’s now been thirty years since the Dons have lifted Scottish Cup silverware. That’s far too long for a club the size of Aberdeen, especially in a period where the likes have Inverness Caley Thistle and St Johnstone have lifted the trophy.
The league encounter with Rangers this past weekend was so familiar too. Aberdeen weren’t able to lay a glove on Rangers at Ibrox, losing by a heavy 4-0 margin to Steven Gerrard’s side. Although in this instance, Derek McInnes’ squad was very tight due to a mix of injuries and the unfortunate situation of some players who were involved with Scotland under-21s having to self-isolate. It was square pegs in round holes for the Dons who were forced to play defender Greg Leigh in the centre of midfield. This showed with the Dons finding themselves exposed on several occasions to Rangers just running through the midfield without a challenge going in.
Whilst we can acknowledge that McInnes was not able to field his team’s strongest squad, he would have hoped the team he did put out would have been able to hold out for longer than they did. Two Rangers goals inside 30 minutes effectively killed the game. From then on it was always going to be the case of how much Rangers could score.
It is important to note that in four of the five matches against teams that finished above Aberdeen last season they have really failed to lay a glove on the opposition. That includes two games at Pittodrie and one at a neutral ground.
Is this Derek McInnes’ main limitation? He’s now been at the club seven years. He’s brought much needed consistency, with European football being delivered every season as well as top four league finishes. He is managing to get them reaching domestic cup semi-finals and finals at Hampden on a frequent basis. Despite this though, the reality is that he only has one trophy to show for it, that infamous 2014 League Cup final penalty shootout win over Inverness CT.
His tenure has also included an unusual period of time when traditional rivals Dundee United, Hearts, Hibs and Rangers had spells out of the top flight. Whilst Celtic wobbled under the management of Ronny Deila, the Dons had nothing to show for for fighting them close.
Many will say “who would you get to replace McInnes?” Well, I am certainly not calling for him to be sacked immediately by any means but perhaps he’s installed this cautious approach into the Aberdeen side when they play in big matches that they cannot stamp out of.
Aberdeen lose more big games because they play more of themDerek McInnes, 2018
What are fellow Aberdeen fans thoughts? I know you cannot go on the Northern Light Facebook group after a game without this question being raised. Which rightly splits the Aberdeen support. Would you like change or will this big game winning mentality finally come through with McInnes at the helm?
We haven’t had the worst start to the season even though we all know how frustrating it really is losing to Celtic in semi-finals and finals on what seems like a yearly basis. Not to mention painfully witnessing a 5-0 and 4-0 defeat at Ibrox in the past year.
Finally, regardless of how any of our teams are performing, wouldn’t it just be amazing to get ourselves back into football stadiums again and see our teams in the flesh. Something that is definitely missing in my heart when I’m having to result in watching such crucial games at home on TV.