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Aberdeen in 2021: Who stays and who goes? The Dons’ defender dilemma

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes.

With the new year fast approaching, we’ve decided to explore the football issues which are close to the Red Army’s heart this festive period.

In this third installment of a five-part series, we ask another of the burning questions followers of the Dons will want to know the answer to for 2021 – Which soon-to-be-out-of-contract defenders will be at Aberdeen past the summer?

There are currently five members of the backline scheduled to be leaving Pittodrie either in January or in the summer.

With the Scott McKenna quandary finally resolved, new problems have come to the fore

For so long the question around Aberdeen’s defence was when Scott McKenna would be sold. Then why Ash Taylor was brought back.

Derek McInnes’ latest quandary at the back surrounds who to actually keep beyond the end of this season, given the majority of his backline are out of contract in the next six months.

Andy Considine will of course be staying, as was always going to be the case given the agreement in his contract about an automatic extension should he reach a certain number of games.

His form this season – which earned him a belated Scotland call-up – and his cult-hero status in the north-east mean anything other than a new contract would’ve created uproar and the Dons moved early to tie him up until at least the summer of 2022.

Andy Considine is secure, but who should definitely be joining him with a deal for next season?

Left to right, Aberdeen defenders Andrew Considine, Ashton Taylor and Tommie Hoban.
Left to right, Aberdeen defenders Andrew Considine, Ashton Taylor and Tommie Hoban.

On to the other two players, which I would think are a near-certainty to remain at Aberdeen into the 2021/22 season: Tommie Hoban and Greg Leigh.

Both have returned from injury lay-offs to pen deals for this season (Hoban is tied down until the summer, Leigh until next month) and have had loan spells with the Dons in the past, both showing their strengths before injury robbed them of the chance to demonstrate more of their abilities.

The pair, both 26, are also hardly on the downside of their careers, so present a wise investment to get signed up for the long-term – fitness-permitting.

Hoban deserves a stretch where he does not have to worry about staying fit.

His injury record has been well-documented, but also masks a truly accomplished footballer, one who impressed at Watford and has aspirations of making the Irish national team.

He is composed on the ball, and versatile enough to play in a back three or back four and at a push, can deputise at full-back or holding midfield, so it makes too much sense to get him tied up.

Leigh was a success during his loan stint from NAC Breda last season, before suffering a fractured tibia in December, and looks to now be up to speed with his match-fitness, after a short period out of the game.

Aberdeen's Greg Leigh in action with Dylan Connolly of St Mirren during the clubs' Betfred Cup match on November 28.
Aberdeen’s Greg Leigh in action with Dylan Connolly of St Mirren during the clubs’ Betfred Cup match on November 28.

He is another who can play as a left-back or further forward, if McInnes opts to continue with the three-at-the-back system.

At 26, he should be coming into the prime of his career and, if it allows Jonny Hayes to play further forward, then keeping Leigh, I’d wager, would be popular with most Aberdeen fans.

Should Ash Taylor, Mikey Devlin and Shay Logan be kept on?

The next three are more debatable. Ash Taylor, Mikey Devlin and Shay Logan have all had their critics during their time with Aberdeen, but clearly have the backing of the manager. They have not been short-term signings.

Logan has seen his game-time deteriorate this season with the move to a back three, as McInnes has preferred to use Matty Kennedy in a wing-back role.

Aberdeen's Shay Logan.
Aberdeen’s Shay Logan.

The arrival of Ronald Hernandez in January was supposed to herald a changing of the guard in the position, but his move has not worked out as planned.

Would Englishman Logan want to move closer to home, after what will have been seven years, given he’s recently started a plumbing and heating business and will have established ties in the north-east? Or is he, more than likely happy seeing out his career with the Dons?

A one-year extension could be the best deal for both parties, given it would save McInnes looking for more squad cover.

Taylor was probably not in McInnes’ strongest line-up at the start of the season; Considine, McKenna and Hoban would have been the ideal back three.

His decision-making can be erratic and he is not going to cover ground quickly, in the mould of a McKenna, which often earns him the chagrin of the supporters, but he is a nuts-and-bolts defender that McInnes likes.

Aberdeen's Ash Taylor tangles with Rangers' Jermain Defoe at Ibrox on November 22.
Aberdeen’s Ash Taylor tangles with Rangers’ Jermain Defoe at Ibrox on November 22.

He is never going to do anything flash. Taylor will not carry the ball out of defence, play line-breaking passes or spray 50-yard diagonal balls into dangerous areas. But, if McInnes wants someone to rely upon to tackle and head the ball, i.e. the basics, then he obviously sees something in Taylor to keep him around.

I fear Devlin will be the odd man out. He has managed 51 appearances for the Dons in three years, with a combination of knee, foot, hamstring and now ankle problems keeping him on the sidelines.

Aberdeen's Michael Devlin.
Aberdeen’s Michael Devlin.

Devlin has featured in less than 40% of Aberdeen’s games since his arrival and, while his performances have been steady at times, McInnes and the board must wonder whether they can justify financially offering him an extension.

Money will be tight again come next year as clubs look to recover from a disastrous 2020 and will need players they can count on to be fit for the majority of seasons.

Devlin and McKenna were talked about as the Dons’ centre-back partnership of the future, but, by and large, getting them on the pitch at the same time never materialised.

McKenna has since moved on and Devlin’s place in the pecking order has been taken by first Taylor and then Hoban.

A fresh start for him – and a break from his injury nightmare – may be just what he needs.

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