The honeymoon period officially ended for Stephen Glass on Wednesday as Christian Doidge struck the fatal blow to finally kill off Aberdeen’s hopes of a third place finish in the Scottish Premiership.
If we’re being honest, it had been long-shot territory for a while and only Hibernian’s inability to find any consistency of their own kept this race going until the penultimate game of the season.
When the opportunity to draw level with Hibs finally came their way on Wednesday Aberdeen’s season-long problem in front of goal returned and it cost them dear.
The Dons had almost 70% possession in a must-win game, but they did precious little with it. Hibernian goalkeeper Matt Macey’s save to turn a Lewis Ferguson strike past the post was the only time he was seriously called into action in what has become an all too familiar routine for Aberdeen this season.
Glass can point to the pressure his team had and how well they kept the ball, but, as much as he searches for whatever positives he can find, the inescapable fact is Aberdeen’s gradual decline is continuing.
Are Hibs about to replace Aberdeen as a consistent top-of-the-table outfit?
Aberdeen will finish fourth for the third season in a row. There is no disgrace in that given the club’s struggles to even be in the top six prior to Derek McInnes’ arrival in 2013, but what has become clear is how much the club has struggled to maintain its own standards of recent campaigns.
The Dons were not outside the top three in the division from 2014 to 2018. They were runners-up in four of those campaigns and in all five their points tally never dipped below 70 points.
Standards have dipped, but, given how the other clubs have struggled to maintain a top-four presence, it should not be taken for granted.
The consistency shown by Aberdeen is what Hibs boss Jack Ross craves at his club.
Speaking after his side secured third place on Wednesday, he said: “It’s not easy. But we’ve pushed and pushed.
“The players will tell you how often I’ve spoken about it. We’ve had countless biggest games of the season.
“We’ve not been perfect, but very few teams are. They should be immensely proud of what they’ve achieved.
“We need to aim for this consistently. That’s what Derek did here. He had a team who consistently got to that position in the league, reached finals.
“The challenge for us is to keep doing it. We’ve been well supported by ownership and hopefully that continues to be the case. We’ve set the bar high and raised expectations. We need to meet those.”
A dwindling points return
While Hibs look to maintain the standard they have set this season Glass has a tough task ahead of him in restoring Aberdeen’s reputation as a formidable outfit following three indifferent seasons.
Aberdeen’s last three Premiership campaigns
P W D L F A Pts
2018-19 38 20 7 11 57 44 67
2019-20 30 12 9 9 40 36 45
2020-21 37 15 11 11 36 34 56
Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock ended Aberdeen’s standing as a top-three side in 2019 as they pipped the Dons on goal difference on the final day of the season, with McInnes’ men having to settle for fourth spot on 67 points. It was a marginal drop of six points for the Dons, but the slide has continued.
There is the caveat of last season being stopped early due to the Covid outbreak, but, even allowing for the fact there were eight games remaining, even if Aberdeen won them all their best points tally would have been 69 points.
They could have been third, but the honour went to Motherwell – although it is not unreasonable to assume the final tally would have been less than that mustered in the previous campaign.
But undoubtedly the drop-off this season has been alarming in the grand scheme of Aberdeen’s recent campaigns.
Fourth is now official and – even if the Dons do pull off what would be a huge shock and beat Rangers at Ibrox on Saturday given the clubs’ respective campaigns – at best they will fail to reach 60 points.
Defensive record is decent foundation – but the other end of the pitch is a different story
After 37 matches they have scored four goals less than they managed in 30 league games last season.
To put that in perspective, Lewis Ferguson is the leading scorer with 10 goals with no other player reaching double figures this term. The best return of any striker is three.
Sam Cosgrove scored 23 for the club last season.
It may not feel like it, but defensively Aberdeen have been very good, averaging less than a goal a game.
But there is no escaping that paltry return of 36 goals from 37 games so far. That, more than any other factor, is why the Dons have finished fourth again.
Glass knows he has work ahead of him in addressing it. Scott Brown and Declan Gallagher will help build on improving the already decent defensive qualities.
But it does not take a genius to see where Glass’ focus this summer lies. Aberdeen need a massive injection of creativity.
The Dons boss said: “There are going to be players coming and going.
“This period coming in since the start of April has given us the opportunity to see exactly what we would like to change.
“You are obviously limited in what positions you can change because there are players sitting on contracts as well.
“So you are looking at the ones you can change, what do you want to change, who do you want to keep.
“It is a constant evaluation and it will be the same next summer as well.
“Who has produced during the year, who can do it for you at the level you require? That has been hugely valuable for us in this period we have been here.”
⚽️🔴 How will Dons fans be feeling about Stephen Glass' early moves to rebuild the @AberdeenFC squad for next season?
— EveningExpress Sport (@ee_sport) May 11, 2021