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Paul Third: All the pressure is on Aberdeen ahead of potential top six shootout with Ross County

Ross County's Regan Charles-Cook (L) and Jonny Hayes of Aberdeen.
Ross County's Regan Charles-Cook (L) and Jonny Hayes of Aberdeen.

Two teams but only one feeling the strain.

That is probably the best way to sum up the contrasting mood in the respective Aberdeen and Ross County camps ahead of their vital game at Pittodrie on Saturday.

The Dons, never lower than fourth for the past eight years running, are in the last chance saloon as their top-six hopes are outwith their control.

If Hibernian fail to beat Hearts at Tynecastle next Saturday then a top-six place will be awarded to whoever wins between the Dons and the Staggies.

Aberdeen are under new management since these sides last met, but the goals have not changed. Stephen Glass has moved on, but – make no mistake – failure to qualify for Europe will be a huge blow for the Dons and new boss Jim Goodwin.

County, a point ahead of the Dons, were tipped as relegation favourites by many before a ball had been kicked.

Actually, they were still odds-on to suffer that fate after 10 games had been played, but a remarkable improvement has made relegation a distant memory for the Staggies.

With Dundee cut adrift, they are the side with it all to do in the final six matches, but St Johnstone could yet haul the other teams above them into the play-off mire if their end of season revival continues.

That is why the top six is the place to be come 4.45pm on Saturday.

Push for Europe vs race to avoid a play-off

With only 10 points separating fourth and 11th, and six between fourth and 10th, all the clubs in the top half come matchday 33 will be able to forget looking nervously over their shoulders.

Instead, their focus will shift to what will be a three-way race for the final European place on offer in fourth place.

For County to be in the mix would be a fairytale ending to Malky Mackay’s first season in charge.

For Aberdeen not to be would be the stuff of nightmares for everyone associated with Pittodrie.

Aberdeen manager Jim Goodwin.

This season was supposed to be one of transition for the Dons, a change in style and approach with a mixture of youth and experience combining to play the Aberdeen Way, the term coined by chairman Dave Cormack when he appointed Glass a year ago.

But few, including the chairman, would have predicted what has unfolded.

Early exits from both cup competitions and a dreadfully inconsistent campaign have left the club facing a cup final style game at Pittodrie, all while looking for help from Hearts.

Two 10-game winless runs and only two domestic away wins all season tells the story of how tough a spectacle watching Aberdeen has been at times.

Top six place the bare minimum for Aberdeen

It is no criticism of County to suggest a place in the top six would be cause for celebration at Pittodrie next weekend.

Their aims are a little more modest to that of the Dons and securing a top-half finish would be a scenario where a team and club have exceeded expectations.

For Aberdeen, it has been the bare minimum.

If fate conspires to give the Dons a top six spot when it’s all said and done, there should be no celebration.

A recognition of the intense pressure being lifted is understandable, but really it should be little more than a collective sigh of relief from all and sundry.

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