Saturday, July 23, 2011

SPL: Aberdeen v St Johnstone

The second of Saturday's three games and a look at what's in store for Aberdeen and St Johnstone.

The game


I've a feeling both these sides will have been quite happy with the opening day's fixtures. A home game for Aberdeen and an away trip that won't overly scare St Johnstone.

Opening games often have a tentative, feet finding atmosphere and this one seems set up to be exactly that. A scoring draw, a pleasant handshake and everyone will be reasonably happy with their day's work.

Aberdeen


Apparently Craig Brown said the week that people are too hung about his age. Maybe he's right. But it is surely worthy of some comment that he's still mustering such enthusiasm for the trials of an SPL season at the age of 71.

It's impressive and should be applauded. All hail the Pittodrie Methuselah, the only man in Scottish football old enough to be David Weir's grandad. More power to his (hopefully not arthritic) elbow.

I detect a quiet confidence about Brown though as he approaches his first full season in charge of Aberdeen. Last term he enjoyed the sort of bounce that many a new manager inspires in the short term before the Dons settled into a rut of mediocrity.

His challenge this year is to find sustained form and, while he's at it, inspire and cajole the supporters back through the turnstiles.

It's a hell of an ask, even for a man so rich in experience that he was born when Colin Firth was king and the Battle of Britain hadn't even begun.

Yet does that quiet confidence suggest the manager thinks his side could surprise a few people this season? As with his recruitment policy at Motherwell his signings have been a mix of the unheralded and the young and hungry. Brown, along with Archie Knox, backs himself to fashion from those signings the team he demands.

It's a formula that's worked for him before.

Two returning players offer experience and tales to tell. Chris Clark is back after a sojourn at Plymouth offering Brown the sort of versatility that will appeal.

And Ricky Foster's loan deal at Ibrox is over. The players seems ready for the challenge although a little local difficulty has already been reported in his relationship with the fans.

That won't bother Brown too much, he'll be confident that if Foster, Clark and the rest can do the job he expects them to do the recalcitrant and the stay away elements within the Pittodrie faithful will come on side.

The top six, perhaps even slightly better, might not be beyond Aberdeen this season.

Twitter tip: Kari Arnasan

St Johnstone


Last season St Johnstone finished eighth in the SPL, and never looked in real danger of relegation, despite scoring only 23 goals. That was one less than relegated Hamilton managed and a hefty 34 less than the Perth Saints managed in finishing eighth the season before.

That consistency of league position despite the wildly fluctuating goal tally is proof of how obdurate Derek McInnes' defence was for him last season.

It must also make St Johnstone fans wonder what might have been had there been a goalscorer in place to capitalise on such strong foundation.

12 players have departed over the close season, a number of those misfiring strikers among them, and seven have been drafted in.

In a summer of Scottish footballing returns 35 year old Callum Davidson is back in Perth after 13 years spent in England.

Another returnee could make a bigger difference though as Cillian Sheridan joins up for second loan stint.

Sheridan's proved himself a consistent goalscorer over the years and McInnes will be hoping that his six month spell can get this season off to a positive start.

There's something admirable about what St Johnstone achieved last year with such a meagre goal return. But it's a risky strategy and one they won't want to repeat.

Depsite some of the departures I expect the defence to remain resolute, the foundation will again be place. Can Sherdian, or anyone, take advantage?

If they can then eighth place might well be the least of St Johnstone's ambitions. If they can't then eighth place would once again look a sound enough achievement.