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Richard Gordon: Aberdeen’s showings against Qarabag saw defensive slackness and lack of offensive threat exposed

Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass.
Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass.

In more than three decades in broadcasting, I have had the great pleasure of covering many big sporting moments and enjoying the atmosphere at some huge occasions.

I had hoped Thursday was going to be another of those evenings as I finally got to return to Pittodrie for the first time since October 2019.

The build-up was nerve-wracking, the sense of anticipation palpable, and then the game kicked-off.

I had said beforehand we had yet to discover just how good Qarabag were, their normal style of play inhibited by that horrendous pitch in Baku, but it did not take them long to prove they are an excellent side.

Qarabag’s Turav Bayramov scores the opening goal during a UEFA Conference League play-off second leg against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Over countless European nights at the old stadium, I have watched some outstanding displays by quality opposition; Thursday was right up there among the best of them.

It should not have come as too much of a surprise as this is the eighth season in a row Qarabag have qualified for group stage football; that is the level the Dons have to aspire to, but right now we are miles away from that sort of attainment.

In truth, we barely laid a glove on the Azerbaijanis and were fortunate to get the penalty which provided the consolation goal.

To win that match, the players were all going to have to hit top form. Sadly, none of them did.

There is still uncertainty at the heart of the defence, where Joe Lewis, Declan Gallagher and Ross McCrorie have yet to build the kind of understanding which is necessary to keep clean sheets, and both Ross and Declan are going to have to cut out the slackness which has been evident in every game.

Calvin Ramsay and Jack MacKenzie have made impressive starts to their Aberdeen careers, but they were given a tough time by Qarabag’s skilful wide men, Romero and Zoubir, and will hopefully have learned plenty from the occasion.

Thursday night also made it clear we are lacking an offensive threat. Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn have been superb servants for the club, but neither possesses the weapons they did four or five years ago. Christian Ramirez had a good night taking the ball in and trying to link-up, but had little or no service in the box, and that is going to have to change if his goal drought is to be ended.

Aberdeen’s Calvin Ramsay (right) competes with Turav Bayramov of Qarabag at Pittodrie.

Given that, and with Ryan Hedges absent, it was imperative Stephen Glass improved that area of the team, and he has taken steps to do so with the recruitment of Austin Samuels and Marley Watkins.

Austin is an unknown quantity and has started just eleven senior games which came during a loan spell at Bradford. If he can produce the qualities we are told he has, he will certainly be a welcome addition.

Marley Watkins, we do know about, and if he has overcome the injuries which plagued his loan spell at Pittodrie, he can certainly have an impact.

Aberdeen forward Marley Watkins.

Further reinforcements were required across the team, and Matty Longstaff should be an excellent capture; his signing represents quite a coup.

We also needed a centre half even before Andrew Considine’s injury and subsequent operation, and it seems likely the David Bates deal will be confirmed over the weekend. He too will be a strong addition to the squad.

I still think we need another out-and-out centre forward; if they can pull that one off, the Dons will have had a very good window.

Great to see Lewis Ferguson getting deserved Scotland recognition

By this time next week, we will be in the midst of a triple-header which will go a long way towards determining whether or not Scotland have a chance of reaching the Qatar World Cup Finals.

A home game against Moldova is sandwiched between hugely difficult trips to Denmark and Austria, with the national team already playing catch-up after draws in their first two matches.

There weren’t too many surprises in Steve Clarke’s squad. Zander Clark is certainly worthy of his call-up and his club captain Jason Kerr should also have been selected in my opinion.

It was great to see Lewis Ferguson getting the recognition his form over the past couple of years has merited; whether he will still be an Aberdeen player by the end of the window remains to be seen.

Aberdeen midfielder Lewis Ferguson in action for Scotland under-21s against Croatia.
Aberdeen midfielder Lewis Ferguson in action for Scotland under-21s against Croatia.

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