Aberdeen got their Premiership campaign off to an encouraging start, beating Dundee United 2-0 at Pittodrie.
Stephen Glass’ rebuilt Dons showed in their Europa Conference League opener against BK Hacken they now have the imagination to create opportunities at will and the confidence to finish their chances, and it was the same in flashes against United, while remaining reasonably comfortable at the back.
Jonny Hayes, free of defensive duties, was involved in both Reds goals – first flicking home Lewis Ferguson’s through-ball for the opener, before playing in 18-year-old right-back Calvin Ramsay to create Christian Ramirez’s second with a sensational piece of skill.
In the 2019/20 season, Aberdeen had failed to beat Dundee United twice under former boss Derek McInnes, with two goalless draws, before interim gaffer Paul Sheerin oversaw a 1-0 Premiership loss at Tannadice.
It was a record which underlined the Reds’ lack of threat in front of goal last term.
After Glass’ arrival in March, there was more pain against the Terrors, with a 3-0 Pittodrie defeat condemning Aberdeen to a Scottish Cup exit at the quarter-final stage.
Finally, this new-look side had the chance to deliver a win symbolic of the personnel and tactical changes made over the summer.
Hedges absent from squad
Following the 2-0 defeat to BK Hacken in Sweden on Thursday evening, Glass rejigged his team for the league opener, with Ryan Hedges not only dropping out of the starting line-up, but out of squad completely. Jack Mackenzie, 21, came in on the left of the back four, freeing up Hayes to take Hedges’ place in the attack.
The Dons lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with the ball, with Hayes appearing to tuck into midfield without it.
United’s starting 11 contained four former Pittodrie players, with Charlie Mulgrew and Mark Reynolds at the back, as well as Peter Pawlett and Lawrence Shankland further forward. Nicky Clark, formerly of the Aberdeen youth academy, was also in Tam Courts’ team.
Aberdeen may not have scored against the visitors last term, but their attacking intent was apparent straight away, with Emmanuel-Thomas making Benjamin Siegrist scramble down to his left to ensure an early shot was indeed rolling just wide of the post.
There were then big appeals for a penalty on six minutes, with Ramirez’s cross-goal volley appearing to come off Mulgrew’s elbow on its way out for a corner. It did appear to be a decent claim, with the defender’s elbow protruding.
On 19 minutes, Ryan Edwards was booked for hauling Hayes over, following several niggly fouls committed by the visitors.
The Dons were dominating, but, despite a few opportunities from free-kicks and corners to get the ball into the United box, and one particularly slick piece of inter-play involving Ramirez, Funso Ojo and young right-back Ramsay, they had to be patient to make the breakthrough.
Freed-up Hayes breaks the deadlock
Their opener came on 27 minutes, with Hayes, who was moonlighting on the right-hand side, receiving the ball from Ferguson in behind and prodding it over the too-slow-to-react Siegrist at his front post.
Aberdeen’s determination to play out from the back is not without its risks and there will be an adjustment period for Andy Considine and Ross McCrorie at centre-half, as well as Joe Lewis in goal.
A bit of untidiness at the back on 37 minutes meant Considine had to knock a high ball down to his goalkeeper from uncomfortably close range.
However, despite a period of mild pressure before the break from the visitors, the Reds were worth their lead at the interval – with Ojo fizzing a superb ball across the face of the United goal from the right just before the whistle blew, before Liam Smith produced something similar at the other end.
Ramsay again demonstrates huge potential
It only took until six minutes into the second half for young Ramsay – so impressive in the first leg against Hacken – to produce a bit of magic and create the Dons’ second.
The right-back dummied Hayes’ pass into the corner, spinning Reynolds as the ball rolled through the ex-Don’s legs. Ramsay then delivered a perfect cross straight on to Ramirez’s head for the United States international’s second Aberdeen goal.
The home side were in full control, with the talented young full-back on the opposite side, Mackenzie, almost dancing his way through and scoring in the 64th minute. However, his low left-footed striker was too close to Siegrist.
United had a good chance to pull a goal back four minutes later, with Ian Harkes unable to find a well-positioned Shankland with a cross from the left. Another effort from range by Harkes moments later was speculative and easily collected by Lewis.
On 74 minutes, Glass was clearly happy for his team to see the game out – with perhaps one eye on Thursday’s trip to Iceland to play Briedablik in the Conference League third qualifying round – taking off goalscorer Ramirez and replacing him with midfielder Dylan McGeouch.
There may be a worry over Ojo going the Euro clash, with the Belgian forced off late on after being the subject of some rough treatment from United, including an excessive-looking challenge from Mulgrew out on the right touchline.
Lewis 7, McCrorie 7, Mackenzie 7, Considine 7, Brown 7, Ramirez 7, Emmanuel-Thomas 7, Ojo 7, Hayes 8, Ferguson, Ramsay 8.
Subs: McLennan (for Hayes 67), McGeouch (for Ramirez 74), Gurr (for Ojo 89).
Subs not used: Woods, Gallagher, McGinn, McGeouch, Jenks.
Siegrist 4, Smith 5, Mulgrew 5, Reynolds 4, Pawlett 5, Clark 5, Edwards 5, Robson 5, Butcher 5, Harkes 4, Shankland 4.
Subs: Chalmers (for Clark 58), Fuchs (for Reynolds 58), Mochrie (for Shankland 80).
Subs not used: Carson, Sporle, Neilson, Freeman.
Man of the match: Calvin Ramsay
Referee: Alan Muir 7
— P&J Sport (@PandJSport) July 30, 2021