After their best ever start to a Premiership season, questions have once more been raised about Aberdeen’s ability to win the title. After pushing Celtic until the beginning of May last season, the closest any team has come to dethroning the Old Firm, the Dons will be looking to run the Champions even closer this time around.
At the end of last season, many wondered whether Aberdeen would be able to maintain the momentum they left off with last year. The Dons quickly set out to bolster their squad and added highly rated Inverness Caley Thistle defender Graeme Shinnie to improve their options on the left of defnece. They further added to their rear-guard, with the addition of Ross County Captain Paul Quinn. Derek McInnes also replaced veteran goalkeeper Jamie Langfield with Liverpool youngster Danny Ward on a season long loan, while pace was bought in the form of Josh Parker from Red Star Belgrade.
Aberdeen started their season in the Europa League as a reward for their success last campaign, with Niall McGinn picking up from where he left off last season, grabbing the equaliser in a tough fought 1-1 draw. Then, the first real test came for McInnes’ side, with a tricky away tie at HNK Rijeka, and the Dons surpassed all expectations with a stunning 3-0 win in Iceland. Aberdeen impressed once more in the return leg with a grafting 2-2 draw, which saw them only one tie away from the Group Stages. The Europa draw gave Aberdeen a long trip to Kazakhstan to face Kairat Almaty, a team who reportedly have spent $15 million on their youth system alone. Not fazed by their rival’s status, the Dons once again proved they could hold their own despite dropping out of the competition, with a 2-1 loss in Kazakhstan followed by a 1-1 draw back in Scotland. Despite failing to reach the Group Stages, Aberdeen sent out a message that they would not sit back and play second fiddle to Celtic.
Aberdeen started their league campaign with a hotly anticipated “New Firm” derby against Dundee United, and the Dons once again showed their ability to grind out results, with a Kenny McLean header enough to ensure the Dons would gain the bragging rights against United. That result was followed by victories against Motherwell, Dundee and Partick Thistle in the run up to a top of the table clash against Champions Celtic.
Whilst the Dons had impressed since the start of the season, many believed that they could not be considered genuine challengers until they were able to break their hoodoo over Celtic. Last season saw Celtic overcome Aberdeen in all four occasions the sides met, including a 4-0 thumping come the turn of the year. Aberdeen proved that they considered themselves genuine challengers, stunning the Bhoys with a 2-1 victory with goals from Adam Rooney and Paul Quinn coming after Leigh Griffiths fired the hoops ahead with a first half penalty.
That result proved that Aberdeen were ready for the pressures the title challenge faced, showing their determination and ability to knuckle down when the going gets tough, whilst having an eye for goal. The result was followed by a 1-0 win over Hamilton Accies, and an impressive 3-1 win over Hearts, as Aberdeen continued to strengthen their lead at the top of the table, to make it eight wins out of eight, their best ever start to a Premiership season.
However, this impressive run was eventually halted by three straight defeats at the hands of Hibernian in the League Cup, Inverness in the league and most recently a 5-1 hammering by St Johnstone. While this may only be a minor setback, this has led to pundits and fans alike questioning whether Aberdeen can maintain their title push.
One concern many have for Aberdeen, is the size of their squad compared to Celtic. As it stands, Aberdeen only have 23 first team players in their squad, and many fear that if key players such as Adam Rooney, the League’s top scorer last year, Graeme Shinnie or Ash Taylor get injured, then replacements will be in short supply. This is one aspect of the Dons’ character which is yet to be assessed, and will be a true test of their quality and credentials if they ever face this problem.
A rather more obvious difference between the two sides, is the finances available to the sides. Come January, Celtic will have the big club attraction to big club players, with the finances to back this up, and Aberdeen may simply not be able to compete with Celtic on this level, as a means to replace injuries or just to keep up with how Celtic bolster their squad.
The best thing for Aberdeen to do however, is focus on themselves. Despite the squad Celtic may have, its depth, and the finances they have, it is Aberdeen who are league leaders. Themselves, and their supporters should cherish this fact, the fact that they are currently leading a title race the likes of which not seen since Rangers were plunged into the lower leagues. They are the form team in Scotland at the moment, with 5 clean sheets to their name already. They have shown their ability to grit their teeth and get on with the dirty side of the game, and with players with the ability of Niall McGinn, they have shown they are capable of producing moments of magic when the time comes. The spotlight is on Aberdeen, the plaudits are coming their way as is the pressure. They must focus on themselves, rather than what Celtic go on to do.
To be the best, you have to beat the best.
Image credit: flickr.com/34805754@N00
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