It doesn't seem like that long since I wrote about us getting ready to face Aberdeen - which is because it's not, as we put them out of the League Cup just 10 days ago. I apologise if bits of this are similar to the preview for that game, but it's difficult finding new stuff to say when you're writing about a team for the third time in the space of as many months! This should be a different game to the other two matches as it's the first to be played in Paisley. Our record against the Dons at our new ground is fairly good as we've only lost once to them, although we have also conceded a couple of late goals that have cost us wins.
The League Cup success was the only bright spot of what has been a miserable month or so. Last week's defeat to Hibs meant we've lost our last four league games, Danny Lennon's worse run since taking over in 2010. Yes, even the side he had in his poor first season didn't manage a run of form as bad as this. Improvement is needed and quickly if we don't want this to turn into a pointless season with no hope of making the top six. That's a best case scenario - Dundee's win last week means we're suddenly looking a little nervously over our shoulder. Surely we cannot be involved in a relegation battle after the improvement of last season?
Aberdeen, like ourselves, are a team that finished in the bottom half last year but are looking to graduate - or, in their case, return - to the big time for the end of the season. The Dons obviously have a much stronger squad than ourselves, partly because they have a much bigger budget. However, if we play like we can, take our chances and don't do anything silly at the back there's no reason why we can't end our dismal run of form in the SPL. The good news is Aberdeen won all three of the SPL's awards for October so will surely be jinxed
We know there will be at least one change from last week's team at Hibs because Jim Goodwin is banned. The skipper has shown flashes of form this season but has also been a liability, getting silly bookings which compromises his game. A spell on the sidelines - and it is likely to be a long one as he is also going to be over the yellow card threshold - will perhaps give him time to think and hopefully he'll return a better player. As for who will fill his slot? Well, David Barron did it last year and was average, while Jon Robertson is another potential option. Or we could completely change the system and Gary Teale or Graham Carey could come in, but that would be a bit suicidal as our defence isn't the best.
Things aren't exactly working well up front either at the moment. We've managed just two league goals in the last month and only one of them came from a striker. By all accounts we created a few chances at Easter Road last week but couldn't take them, a problem we encountered last season. Perhaps it's time for Lewis Guy to come back into the team so we have a bit of pace and movement up top. At least our younger players did a job last week - Kenny McLean impressing the visiting scouts and Thomas Reilly doing well on his first ever start.
As I mentioned before, many pundits tipped Aberdeen to take second spot before the season started. I found it an odd move as they haven't been too good in the last few years (even we finished above them last season) and hadn't made a great deal of improvements over the summer. However, the changes seem to have worked for Craig Brown, with his team currently flying high in fourth, only goal difference keeping them out of third. Whether or not that can be maintained until May remains to be seen, but it would be a huge shock if they now missed out on the top six or a place in Europe.
In those post Rangers time of supposed Armageddon there is more focus than ever on bringing players through youth systems and Aberdeen currently have a few potential stars. Ryan Fraser has been winning rave reviews this season with some terrific displays on the wings and could well be destined for a move down south in the next year or so, while Cammy Smith has the potential to be a top striker – although he did miss the decisive penalty against us. Whether or not they turn out to be as good as Brown is suggesting - the Pittodrie gaffer has compared them to some legendary players of yesteryear - remains to be seen, but if they continue to develop as they appear to be doing at the moment then they could go a long way in the game.
Despite Aberdeen being nowhere near as successful as they were during Alex Ferguson's time in charge, when the likes of Alex McLeish, Willie Miller and John Hewitt came through the ranks, their youth set-up has still been pretty handy for the past decade or so. Aside from the more recent graduates like Fraser and Smith, and the departed Fraser Fyvie and Jack Grimmer, plenty of other players have come through to establish themselves in the first team. One of those is Russell Anderson, who returned to the club earlier this season after a torrid time with injuries down south. It's a shame as he always looked like a player who could cut it at a higher level but it just didn't seem to work out for him. He now joins another youth graduate, Andrew Considine, in the centre of defence with Ryan Jack and Clark Robertson also doing a job at the back. Chris Clark is another player who has returned following time in England and is operating in the midfield alongside former Scotland caps Gavin Rae and Stephen Hughes.
The partnership of Niall McGinn and Scott Vernon seems to be working pretty well for Aberdeen this season. The problem last year for Brown was that while Vernon seemed to be able to score, no one else could. McGinn - who recently scored a goal that almost gave Northern Ireland a sensational win in Portugal - seems to be revelling in regular first team football in the SPL following a torrid few years with Celtic where he seemed to be stuck in a cupboard and forgotten about. So far this season he has outscored Vernon, with six goals in his last six league games, putting him up there with the likes of Duncan Shearer and Frank McDougall in the club's record books. It's surely only a matter of time until Vernon is banging in the goals again - especially as he seems to like scoring against us, as shown in the League Cup the other week. Johnny Hayes is another player who has done well against the Buddies in the past during his time at Inverness Caley Thistle but the winger has yet to produce those sort of displays on a consistent basis at Pittodrie.
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Source: Mirren MAD