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Duncan Shearer column: Premiership’s top-four are going to tear away from the rest of the pack this season

Aberdeen were tremendous in Dingwall.
Aberdeen were tremendous in Dingwall.

We have not completed the first round of fixtures yet, but already it looks as if the top four in the Scottish Premiership are in danger of pulling away from the chasing pack.

Aberdeen were excellent at Victoria Park on Sunday and their 3-0 win allowed them to open up a four- point gap on the teams behind them, a feat even more impressive when you consider the Dons have played two games less than their nearest challengers.

It is early days and we might see a side like Kilmarnock last the pace, but it does look at this stage as if Rangers, Celtic, Hibs and the Dons have that little bit more than the rest. They’ve certainly found a level of consistency.

Sunday was my first chance to get a proper look at my old club Aberdeen and I have to say they were terrific against the Staggies.

They could have been a couple of goals ahead in the opening 10 minutes, such was the impressive start by the visitors. The only criticism of Derek McInnes’s side is that the margin of victory was not greater.

They were too quick and too sharp in the wide areas for the Staggies and dominated the midfield and, once Marley Watkins opened his account for the club with the vital opening goal, it became of a question of what the margin of victory would be.

The fact Marley’s opener came after Niall McGinn and Scott Wright had hit the post for the Dons tells you how on top they were.

I was surprised to see Marley score with a header as that is not his forte, but now that he is off the mark I expect the goals to be like buses for him and he’ll go on to bag a few during his time at Pittodrie.

Marley Watkins scores.

On a day when so many players in red were standouts, Wright really caught the eye for me. He was fantastic and the free role really seems to be bringing out the best in him. He has been given licence to drop off, collect the ball and run at defences and his pace and movement caused County so many problems in the game.

With Ross McCrorie, Lewis Ferguson, Jonny Hayes and Ryan Hedges all in good form, too, Derek has a very impressive midfield when his players are firing on all cylinders and that was certainly the case on Sunday.

While it was a great afternoon for the Dons, it was a disappointing one for the home side and I expect Stuart Kettlewell will be going back to the drawing board with his players in training this week.

It was a tough shift for the Staggies, who didn’t perform, and the loss of captain Iain Vigurs following his red card compounded a miserable afternoon for them.

Clearly there is work to be done ahead of Sunday’s trip to Ibrox to face Rangers.

The Highland League Season is a no-go

Highland League clubs should call the upcoming new season off and come back and try again next summer.

The coronavirus has really put the Highland League in a quandary and the decision to further delay the season was a sensible one.

But with the prospect of fans returning to football grounds not looking likely any time soon, I’m sure several chairmen are giving serious consideration to not starting the new campaign.

The Highland League is a division which cannot survive without fans coming through the gates and matchday hospitality.

Take both revenue streams away and clubs are going to struggle to pay players’ wages. That fact strikes at the heart of the issue facing every member club and I’d wager before the days of the pyramid play-off the decision facing clubs would have been a straightforward one.

If the SPFL and SFA forces the league to start because there must be a league champion then they should hang their heads in shame.

Brora Rangers were denied the chance to compete in the play-offs after winning their league and it would be the height of hypocrisy to penalise the league for not competing this season given the events of the summer.

Should fans already be allowed back in football grounds? The issue was discussed on this week’s Northern Goal football podcast:

Players paying the penalty of bad rule

I have no idea who sat in the room when what amounts to a handball offence was determined, but something has gone badly wrong with our game.

Like most of you who follow English football some of the VAR decisions awarding penalties at the weekend have left me shaking my head in disbelief.

The incidents which led to penalties being awarded in the Spurs v Newcastle game and in Crystal Palace’s defeat to Everton were, to be blunt, ridiculous, and I’m putting that as politely as I can.

There is a new interpretation of the handball law which has been introduced in England and I don’t blame the officials at all. They are applying the laws of the game as they have been laid down.

No, this goes much higher than the level of referees.

Players and managers should be involved in determining what should amount to a handball offence, because what we’re seeing just now falls short of the standard the game needs.

It’s a joke, but no one is laughing.

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