THERE is nothing quite like losing to Rangers, the club they love to hate more than any other, to stir up discontent among Aberdeen supporters and turn them against their manager.

Yet, when referee Nick Walsh blew the final whistle in the Viaplay Cup semi-final at Hampden last Sunday evening, Jim Goodwin and his players received a rousing ovation from their thousands of disappointed but proud fans in the stands. 

The Pittodrie men might have ended up being beaten 2-1 by their Ibrox rivals after extra-time. However, they had competed well throughout the 120 minutes. Even when they were reduced to 10 men.

Would they have pulled off another cup upset against their Glasgow opponents if their captain Ant Stewart, who was red carded for a needless and dangerous challenge on Borna Barisic in injury-time, had remained on the park? There is every chance given how impressively they had performed in defence, midfield and attack. 

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Allan McGregor, the Rangers goalkeeper, needed to pull off two outstanding saves in the closing stages of a fiercely-contested encounter to keep Michael Beale’s side narrowly in front and ensure they progressed to the final against Celtic next month.

Goodwin got his gameplan spot on and Stewart and his team mates, who had conceded a deflected second-half equaliser, executed it to perfection. Dons diehards recognised their heroes had given their all and showed their appreciation accordingly.

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It could, though, be an entirely different story in the less salubrious surroundings of Recreation Park on Monday evening if Aberdeen fail to overcome Darvel in Ayrshire in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup.

Defeat to the West of Scotland League Premier Division minnows will provoke a furious response from the same individuals who stood and applauded in Mount Florida six days ago – and there are certain to be calls for the man in the dugout to be sacked.

The 5-0 reverse that Goodwin’s charges slumped to at the hands of Hearts at Tynecastle has put the Irishman under serious pressure and he can ill afford another loss in front of the BBC Scotland cameras.

Perhaps playing a game so soon after their exertions on a disgrace of a pitch in the semi-final was responsible for Aberdeen’s lamentable display – which was branded “humiliating”, “unacceptable” and “a disgrace” by those responsible afterwards - in Gorgie.

Maybe not having centre half Stewart and goalkeeper Kelle Roos, who suffered a groin injury against Rangers and is set to be sidelined for up to 10 weeks, resulted in the issues at the back which their hosts exploited ruthlessly.

The insipid performance, though, was by no means a one-off. Their away form in the 2022/23 campaign has been nothing short of appalling. They have won just two of the 11 matches they have played on their travels in the cinch Premiership this term. They have conceded no fewer than 27 goals, more than any other team in the top flight, in the process.

The former Alloa and St Mirren manager must address that costly trait as well as his side’s obvious failings at the back – starting against Darvel in the cup – if he is to avoid the fate of his predecessor Stephen Glass and survive his first full season.

READ MOREJim Goodwin in defiant Aberdeen message amid job pressures

It is undeniable that Goodwin has improved Aberdeen since being appointed back in February. He has certainly signed well. Leighton Clarkson, Duk, Bojan Miovski, Ylber Ramadani, Roos and Stewart have all proved to be good acquisitions. Picking up points at Pittdorie, too, has not been a problem. They have won 10 and drawn one of the 14 games they have played in all competitions at home.

Still, since club football resumed after the World Cup break last month, Aberdeen have triumphed in just one of their eight outings and have slipped from third place to fifth spot in the league table as a consequence. If the slide continues they will be doing well to finish in the top six, never mind clinch a European place.

Goodwin isn’t shying away from the problems he is facing. He has stated publicly that his team needs to improve defensively and when they play away. He is desperately trying to bring in reinforcements before the January transfer window closes. Graeme Shinnie, the versatile and experienced veteran who has joined on loan from Wigan until May, should make a difference.

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But the 41-year-old admitted back in September that third place in the Premiership was a “minimum requirement”. That is looking very unlikely at the moment. Will he remain in situ if he his charges are unable to finish as the best of the rest outwith the Old Firm?

Chairman and majority shareholder Dave Cormack would be well advised to stand by his man given his youth and lack of previous experience at the level he is operating at. He made a big step up when he moved on from the SMiSA Stadium after two-and-a-half season in charge. He has shown enough to suggest that he can be a success given time.

However, he is operating in an unforgiving environment. Ultimately, it will be the Aberdeen supporters who decide if he stays or goes. There will need to be a stark and immediate improvement in the coming weeks to keep them onside.