Wednesday, August 11, 2010

SPL 2010/2011: Aberdeen

"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."

A warm welcome back to Seb Gevers, the now retired supremo of the unfortunately defunct Inside Left blog.

Seb continues to post about all things Aberdeen on The Offside and has kindly agreed to provide a preview of how the 2010/11 SPL season might pan out for the Dandy Dons.

I suspect not running Inside Left might be agreeing with him - he seems uncharacteristically optimistic:


So now that the God-awful World Cup is over, we can get back to another season of Scottish Premier League football at Aberdeen FC, the mightiest team north of the Tay. Will it be a season of glory or of mediocrity? Will the Dons finally break their Cup hoo-doo and win some bloody silverware? Will it be better than last year, or just more of the same? Well, ask me again in May next year.

For now, we’ll kick-off with a quick look back over what happened since the season ended and what we can expect in the coming months!

Last Season Prediction/Final Finish
I said we’d finish 4th; our panel said: 9th!

Last Season
Jimmy Calderwood was sacked at the end of another relatively successful season for the Dons (another top half finish and European qualification), but his failure to win domestic silverware proved to be his undoing.

The arrival of Mark McGhee, a Gothenburg Hero who had managed to turn Motherwell around, was meant to mark (no pun intended) the start of the great recovery, but the season soon turned into one of extreme disappointment. It started poorly, continued terribly and ended badly. Humiliating cup defeats, an early exit from Europe and a season with more ups and downs than a hooker on a see-saw is how it can best be summed up.

A lowly 9th finish, the lowest since we finished bottom of the league in May 2000, was no small mercy, considering the Dons were not far short of being dragged into a relegation dogfight. That the season went this badly with essentially the same squad that Calderwood managed to get into fourth spot the season before begged some questions about McGhee’s suitability for the task at hand, not least from yours truly.

McGhee hung (or clung) on regardless surviving some pretty poor PR when he effectively blamed the fans for the club’s poor performance, an opinion shared by some of the players. The Dons fans have high expectations, sometimes unrealistic expectations, but nobody living within 25 miles of Pittodrie expects their side to crash to the likes of Dundee or Raith Rovers, or to get pumped 8-1 on aggregate to some obscure Czech side.

That the Dons were capable of better was demonstrated only in occasional flashes (the 4-4 against Celtic, the wins over Hearts, Rangers and Dundee United) but it was in those games that once upon-a-not-so-long-ago would be sure-fire bankers that the Dons slipped up. This has to improve next season.

Summer Activity
That things needed to change was obvious, but with the club hard-up for cash the prospect and promise of new signings to rebuild the squad had a certain hollow ring to it. Nevertheless, as the summer progressed and the World Cup came and went, McGhee was not sitting around idle.

Rory McArdle, the 23 year-old Northern Ireland defender signed from Rochdale, was the clubs first signing for the new season. He’ll be joined by Mark Howard (goalkeeper, St Mirren), Josh Magennis (forward, Cardiff), Yoann Folly (midfielder, Plymouth) and Scott Vernon, (striker, Colchester United).

The summer marquee signing without doubt is the arrival of 33 year-old Paul Hartley. He was signed from Championship side Bristol City, but will be known to fans of the game north of the border as a former Hamilton Accies, Raith Rovers, Hibernian, St Johnstone, Hearts and Celtic player. He’s also a Scotland international, gaining 25 caps and scoring once.

Hartley’s arrival meant that the club would not be making an offer for former Derby player Lee Hendrie, while Grant Basey, a former Charlton Athletic player and a natural replacement for Charlie Mulgrew at left back, will probably be offered a deal. Michael Paton and Jerel Ifil (the latter an unimpressive panic buy - a loan spell may be the first steps towards punting him in January) being considered for a loan-deals to clear the wage bill and facilitate a move for Basey.

The summer has also seen players leave. Charlie Mulgrew returned from whence he once came (ie, Celtic), Stuart Duff was released, Davide Grassi preferred a return to Italian obscurity when he failed to get the year-contract he craved (and which, based on his second half of the season performance, he might well have earned), club captain Mark Kerr moved to Greece, while the other half of Aberdeen’s midfield last season, Gary McDonald, joined Hamilton Accies and will no doubt enjoy a return to the Granite City this Saturday, the opening day of the season.

Last season’s loan-signings failed to materialize into anything more permanent, injury and finances taking care of Jim Paterson and Steven McLean respectively; both returned to Plymouth. The rarely-used midfielder Paul Marshall moved on to Walsall.

Finally, the duds signed in Calderwood’s last year in charge have also quietly moved on: Tommy Wright returned to Grimsby while the clubs two goalkeeping acquisitions, Bertand Bossu and Stuart Nelson, moved on to Crewe and Notts County respectively.

Pre-Season
The pre-season has not been terribly impressive with the Dons only winning two of the eight games played and, more worryingly, only scoring seven goals along the way while conceding ten. At least we didn’t get pumped by Peterhead this season – that honour went to their nearest rivals Fraserburgh…

Sat 17 Fraserburgh L 3-1
Sun 18 Peterhead W 2-0
Wed 21 Dunfermline L 1-0
Sat 24 Tamworth D 1-1
Tue 27 Port Vale W 1-0
Sat 31 Brighton L 1-0
Tue 3 Brechin D 2-2
Sat 7 Kaiserslautern L 2-0


Simply astounding, I’m sure you’ll agree..

Key Personnel
Jamie Langfield and Zander Diamond need to step up to the plate this season to steady the creaky defence that conceded 31 goals at home, more than any other club in the league. Both Langfield and Diamond have come in for criticism in recent days, Langfield for his daft and unnecessary injury (he dropped a cup of hot coffee on his foot), and Diamond for wearing his cloak of invisibility during the final friendly of the season against German side Kaiserslautern.

Up front Darren Mackie needs to improve on his four goals from last season, especially now that he faces competition from new boys Vernon and Magennis. The arrival of Hartley (the new team captain) should add some leadership to the team, something that was seriously lacking throughout 2009/10.

The Season Ahead
It doesn’t auger well when the already (mostly) dreadful squad loses not only one of the main goal scorers, a team captain and the entire ‘mid’ in ‘midfield’ but also some of the more experienced players. McGhee has rebuilt the middle of the team with Hartley and Folly. Aluko and Pawlett should figure more this season, and indeed it will be Aluko to who most Dons fans look towards to give us that bit of flair and spark up the left wing. Last season was one best forgotten for Aluko, but with the middle of the park strengthened to give the former Birmingham City and England Under-21 player a bit more room to roam, he may well turn in the kind of performance that saw him become a firm favourite with the fans.

The summer signings have gone some way towards lifting the negativity and lack of optimism about the plight of the club around the town that had carried over from last season, but you can see that McGhee has a tough job to pick up the pieces and not start winning on the park and winning over the supporter in the stands.

The good news is that a) the Aberdeen youngsters (Pawlett, Fyvie etc.) did well last season and; b) the Old Firm are pretty rum at the minute. The bad news is that Aberdeen had more to fear from the Hamiltons, the St Johnstones and the Kilmarnocks of this world rather than the Old Firm last season. Let’s hope this next season does not continue in that same vein, otherwise it’ll be another long hard year.

Prediction
5th in the league, with a decent Cup run. Aberdeen ought to be able to do better in the Cups than they have in recent times, when both the Scottish and the League Cup have become massive banana skins for the Dons. This year we start the road to Cup Glory with a trip to Alloa, a side who last beat us in our first foray into Scottish football back in January 1904.

What could possibly go wrong...?