• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Success sells as Aberdeen show naked ambition . . .

EVERY day this week there has been a long queue snaking out of the Pittodrie ticket office.

Jonny Hayes is the first player to beat Fraser Forster in the league since November. Picture: SNS
Jonny Hayes is the first player to beat Fraser Forster in the league since November. Picture: SNS

Aberdeen's shop and website are doing equally brisk business on a new batch of merchandise celebrating their upcoming appearance in the Scottish League Cup final. Strips, scarves, flags, foam hands, they are all available and selling well. The tills are whirring because Aberdeen have had a dizzying, intoxicating month.

They routed St Johnstone to reach the League Cup final. Then they dumped Celtic at Parkhead to make themselves favourites for the William Hill Scottish Cup too. Since then six league points have been harvested from nine, including a second stirring triumph over Celtic on Tuesday. The defending champions are home-and-dry in the SPFL Premiership but two nights ago their cherished league records - unbeaten this season and having kept clean sheets since Methuselah was a lad - crumbled in the north-east.

With all due respect to Morton, Aberdeen have been the only Scottish team able to land a couple of major blows on Celtic. It is 20 years since Aberdeen have had a team with the substance, character, excitement and potential of the one currently sending a charge of electricity around the north-east. They estimate that more than 30,000 fans will follow them to the cup final.

The potential for a collapse remains. The cup final opponents, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, have won their last three games. Dumbarton will come to Pittodrie in the Scottish Cup as a side in the top half of the Championship. Aberdeen could lose to them, or to a rival like Rangers or Dundee United in the semi-final or final. No club has let its supporters down in the cups more than Aberdeen in the past couple of decades.

But those same fans are entitled to the palpitations they are currently experiencing about what the next few weeks could have in store. A platform has been built from which they could finish second, return to European football, win a trophy for the first time in nearly 19 years, and maybe even add a another. It has been a dramatic rise from finishing eighth in the league, and nowhere in the cups, last season.

"People might say we have done well already," said Jonny Hayes, the Aberdeen winger. "I'm sure the manager would tell me off for saying that. But we won't rest on our laurels. I think to get second in the league would be a big achievement for us. Our main attention is on the league, finishing second and trying to get as many points as we can between now and the end of the season. When the cup games come along we'll focus on them."

For the first time in years Aberdeen have a number of matchwinners. Last season they relied on Niall McGinn. This season he is again the top scorer but is likely to be overtaken soon by Adam Rooney, who has scored five times in six appearances since signing in January.

McGinn and Rooney can hurt teams. So can Hayes, Peter Pawlett, and Barry Robson. Willo Flood simply wears opponents down. The defence, too, has been sound. Jamie Langfield has been consistent and defied his critics, so far.

"I think we've gradually realised as the season has gone on that we're a good team," said Hayes. "We have shown really good battling qualities and we are not afraid to take on anyone. Way back at the start we played FC Twente in pre-season and they'd be up there with the best British teams, with the way they controlled the game and kept the ball. Technically they were very good. And we beat them 2-0.

"One thing about this team is we can adjust our style. We can dominate games, we can sit off games and I think that is down to the manager and "Doc" [assistant Tony Docherty] being tactically aware."

Aberdeen have played 4-2-3-1 all season but in the opening minutes against Celtic played 4-1-3-2, with McGinn closer to Rooney.

Hayes and Rooney were formerly team-mates at Inverness, scoring 27 times in their last season together there. "He has that great desire to score goals and I think that's something we probably lacked a bit bar Niall," added Hayes.

Five of the team which started against Celtic are in their first season at Pittodrie: Rooney, Robson, Flood, Alan Tate and Shaleum Logan. Another four - Hayes, Pawlett, Mark Reynolds and Langfield - are enjoying their most improved and consistent campaigns. Pawlett has always had explosive pace but adding strength and aggression has made him a revelation. Hayes' outstanding goal against Fraser Forster took his total for the campaign to five, one more than in the whole of last season.

He is unlikely to ever hit a sweeter one. Around 25 yards from goal he lashed a shot right into Forster's top right-hand corner, scoring the first league goal against the Celtic goalkeeper since November. "When you see the back of the net bulge it is more of a relief really, that you've managed to score rather than hit the corner flag. I'm not one to brag but if I do hit a few towards the corner flag I'll remind the gaffer I can do it once a year . . ."

Lately the "gaffer" hasn't seemed like a man with the patience to wait for anything. Over the past four weeks Derek McInnes has raced Aberdeen from one adrenaline rush to another.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

215812