The first half of Aberdeen’s season drew to a close with their 2-1 home win over Covid-hit Dundee on Boxing Day.
To this point, I would rate the campaign as having its good and bad moments.
The Dons have reached the winter break and go into the new year in the top six, having climbed the Premiership table from the lowly position they were in earlier in the season. Four wins in their last five league games has helped put a more positive spin on things.
But there have also been less rosy runs at points in the first half of the season, plus a miserable League Cup exit away at Raith Rovers.
It hasn’t been as convincing a campaign as anyone – staff, players and the Red Army would have hoped before we got under way – however, at the same time, it needs to be remembered that it is Stephen Glass’ first proper season in charge of the team and it was always going to take time to get things functioning as he would like.
Sometimes we see chairmen and clubs acting rashly in the moments where performances and results aren’t going the right way.
Look at Hibs getting rid of Jack Ross a few weeks ago. Should that have happened? I’d have said no.
Glass was under substantial pressure back in October, but Dons chairman Dave Cormack backed him to the hilt on national radio, despite a 10-game winless run and a host of other worrying statistics.
Has that proven to be the right call? I’d say yes, because Aberdeen are now in a better. position.
They have a great platform to kick on and challenge for another European qualification when the league fixtures get going again in mid-January.
Have the performances been good enough consistently in the Premiership so far? No – with a noticeable lack of creativity at times in forward areas.
It is my view the squad assembled by Glass after he took over from Derek McInnes towards the end of last term is strong apart from that.
There was a question around the defence, which looked a wee bit rocky a few weeks ago, but the backline has been operating far better in recent matches.
Injury issues have also played a part, and the Reds will hope to put this persistent irritant behind them in the second half of the campaign.
However, Cormack, Glass and the rest of the staff – including head of recruitment Darren Mowbray – will be hoping to do a bit of business to find a little bit more spark in and around the opposition box.
Some of this may be forced upon them by outgoings, although Glass will be hoping this isn’t the case.
On Sunday, I noted Aberdeen turned it round against Dundee thanks to goals from Ryan Hedges and then Lewis Ferguson – two important players in the forward area, who may not be at the Dons when the January transfer window closes.
Hedges is reaching the end of his deal and, although it is not a definite, it may be the case Aberdeen choose to cash in amid English Championship interest in the attacker.
Meanwhile, the Reds hold all the cards when it comes to midfielder Ferguson – who was pursued by Premier League Watford in the summer – due to having him tied down on a contract.
It is a fact of life players will sometimes move on from clubs like Aberdeen, but, if Ferguson is sold for good money, it would allow the Dons to reinvest the cash to, at the very least, maintain the status quo, or even improve the squad.
That’s when Mowbray and Glass’ work behind the scenes, lining up a list of targets in advance, will be vital.
Ultimately, Aberdeen are right in the hunt for third place in the second half of the season if they can find a consistently higher gear. I think the top-two places will be sealed by Celtic and Rangers again this term looking at the standings as they are currently, but a best of the rest placing come May is still all to play for.
That is what the Red Army are used to, and it’s the challenge for the manager and his players. It’s a very achievable target in the new year.
The Dons have started their new era with a mixed bag in terms of showings and results, but can turn that bag into all positives by the time season 2021/22 draws to a close.
Let’s not forget the Scottish Cup campaign, which starts against Edinburgh City on January 22 at Pittodrie. It will – as always – be an important part of how the campaign is judged.
A good run in the cup will be essential, following disappointment in the League Cup.
Ludicrous Aberdeen v Dundee clash went ahead amid visitors’ outbreak
The fact Sunday’s game between Aberdeen and Dundee even went ahead – given the Dens Park club’s Covid outbreak – is ludicrous in my opinion.
It follows on from St Mirren’s request to postpone clashes against Celtic and Rangers over the past week also being denied by SPFL.
The league governing body have argued they made their decisions in accordance with new rules for these situations, which were set out at the start of the season and state how many coronavirus absentees a club needs to have to be able to get a game rescheduled.
However, I think James McPake, the Dundee boss, put forward really valid points as to why he didn’t feel the health of players, staff and their families had been prioritised on Sunday.
After a late positive test ruled out six first-team players, Dundee travelled to Pittodrie with a squad of 15, with a bench comprised of two goalkeepers, 40-year-old assistant manager Dave Mackay and youth player Callum Lamb, having been unsuccessful in their bid to get the game moved.
I think, for situations specifically related to the virus like this one, where a positive test or positive tests within a squad rule out multiple players late on – and no-one really knows for sure if the virus may be lurking, as-yet-undetected elsewhere in the camp – there has to be some maneuverability.
McPake questioned why, with opportunities to reschedule the game for a midweek in the new year, the ‘atrocious’ decision to make the team play had been taken – saying staff from Aberdeen and their families were put ‘at risk’, on top of the risk for the Dundee staff and their families.
Those, to me, are good, strong, common sense reasons for a postponement, and make me think the rules need to be looked at again.
I’m not wanting games to go off willy-nilly – but a sensible, mature decision to postpone the game should have been taken in the circumstances.
Porteous-Ramirez clash was another reminder of the need for VAR
Reflecting back on Aberdeen’s 1-0 defeat to Hibs at Easter Road on Wednesday last week, we got yet another reminder that VAR (video assistant referee) technology can’t come to Scotland soon enough.
Earlier in the game, the home side’s winning goalscorer, defender Ryan Porteous, was involved in a clash with Aberdeen striker Christian Ramirez near the halfway line.
The players went to ground, with Porteous kicking the US forward in a very painful area once they got there and after the ball was gone.
The 22-year-old stopper has now rightly been cited by the SFA over the incident – because it looked like he should have avoided making contact with Ramirez with his boot – and could be facing retrospective punishment, however, he got off with it in the game.
Seems unintentional? 🙄🥴😂🤷🏽♂️ pic.twitter.com/k1adkSkybK
— Christian Ramirez (@Chris_Ramirez17) December 23, 2021
I was at Easter Road and, admittedly, I didn’t see the incident from my radio position right at the back of the stand.
But, having seen the footage, I think referee Alan Muir should have spotted the flashpoint, as he was probably only a couple of yards away. He was behind the players as they fell, and had perhaps started shifting his gaze away to where the ball was as play raged on – but he should still spot it.
You’ve got to think, although it is not infallible, VAR would help referees in these moments, rather than punishment being dealt out days after the game has been played.
It has been a patchy season for refereeing performances in Scotland so far this term, but they should be getting support to stop mistakes happening, as we saw in Edinburgh last week how they can affect results.