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Analysis: Men of Steel needed for Aberdeen’s Tynecastle test

Scott Brown in action for Aberdeen in the Europa Conference League play-off against Qarabag.
Scott Brown in action for Aberdeen in the Europa Conference League play-off against Qarabag.

Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass would do well to do a little light reading of his club’s recent results from their past trips to Hearts when pondering whether to make major changes to his starting line-up on Sunday.

You have to go back to May 2017 for the last Dons win at Tynecastle and that was when former Dons boss Derek McInnes went with his full-strength team in the 2-1 victory.

The last two away trips for the Reds have featured six changes, at Livingston, and seven at Raith Rovers.

The results have been mixed with an injury-time mistake from the home goalkeeper giving the Dons victory at Livi, before a dreadful second half display resulted in an early exit from the Premier Sports Cup at Raith.

The outcomes may differ, but the common denominator in both games has been the raft of changes made to the team for the matches which have come after European ties.

Progress to the playoff round of the Conference League means Glass has another decision to make for the trip to Hearts, who like his side have won their opening two league matches.

Hearts have been resilient at home

Robbie Neilson’s side may have stumbled across the finish line in uninspiring fashion in winning the Championship title last season, but their grit and determination has been the hallmark in their two league victories thus far.

Possession statistics from Hearts’ 2-1 win against Celtic on the opening day of the season.

A rousing 2-1 win against Celtic on the opening day of the season on home turf was achieved by soaking up long periods of pressure from the Hoops.

It was not so much how long Hearts had possession, but what they did with it.

Celtic, as is to be anticipated, had the lion’s share of the ball, but the Jambos did not buckle.

The shots at goal show a dominant Celtic, but a closer look shows Hearts scoring while under pressure in the first half before being more of a threat and nullifying Ange Postecoglou’s side after the interval.

Statistics from the Hearts v Celtic game.

Set-pieces were a large part of their play and physically they more than held their own.

It’s timely indicators of what Glass and his players can expect from their first trip to Tynecastle since December 2019.

Dons need a strong start in Edinburgh

A closer look at Aberdeen’s last away league game, that 2-1 success at Livi, makes for equally interesting viewing.

Aberdeen’s first half offering there was appalling. Just look at the first half notes of interest, or lack of them, from the Dons. One shot, off target.

Aberdeen’s second half showing was key in their dramatic win at Livingston

It can be no coincidence the introduction of Scott Brown off the bench before half-time coincided with such a drastic improvement in the second half.

From one attempt at goal in 45 minutes, the Dons added 10 more to their final tally, scoring twice to clinch victory. They had more of the ball, were accurate with it and imposed themselves.

It was the polar opposite to the second half at Kirkcaldy where a rousing second half showing from Raith gave them a famous cup scalp.

Brown was sent on in the second half to try to help rescue the game, but it was too late to make any meaningful impact. His steely determination and aggression, and that of Lewis Ferguson, is needed from the first minute in the capital.

Qarabag loomed large in Glass’ thinking when picking a team for the cup-tie a week ago. It will likely be at the forefront again of his team selection for Tynecastle.

His options have been restricted by the absence of Andy Considine and Ryan Hedges, but in domestic terms the challenge of Hearts is undoubtedly bigger than the two previous away trips have been.

The case can be made the second leg against Qarabag is more important too, but surely the wholesale changes of recent weeks will be tempered for this one.

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