A clean sheet against fellow top six chasers Ross County this weekend would be the most important shut-out of Aberdeen’s season.
It was a disappointing afternoon for the Dons on Saturday – and a major blow to their top six hopes- as they drew 2-2 at bottom side Dundee.
There were questions over the build-up to Dundee’s first equaliser, where it looked like Dees midfielder Charlie Adam twice caught Lewis Ferguson with a flailing arm – but you can’t really put forward excuses at this point in the campaign for dropping points. Not with so much on the line.
Somehow top six is still there for Dons – but they need two things to go right
The fact of the matter is, the Reds – chasing two wins in their final two pre-split games in order to secure top six football – let two points slip to the side rock-bottom of the Premiership, despite leading twice.
As Jim Goodwin said before the game, both the Dundee clash and the meeting with Ross County this weekend were must-win to get Aberdeen where they want and need to be in the top-flight table.
Despite the result, as luck would have it, the dominoes can still fall in a way this weekend that means the Dons make it into the top half.
The key is of course Hibs not winning the Edinburgh derby against third-placed Hearts, as, should Shaun Maloney’s side claim victory, then Goodwin’s side can’t overhaul them.
Should Goodwin and his players get that favour from the Jambos, while also taking care of business against another top-six hopeful in Ross County at Pittodrie, they’ll be in the top six, with the five games left to try to secure Europe.
If one of those things doesn’t go for them, it looks like it’ll be a far less inspiring end to the campaign in the bottom half.
The Premiership is so tight ahead of Saturday that the teams currently in fourth position all the way to 10th position could make it into the top six, depending on how the results pan out this weekend.
Reds lacked authority at the back, as keeper Lewis has another difficult day
There’s no question Dundee are fighting hard for their Premiership future under Mark McGhee.
And ask Callum Davidson, of St Johnstone, and David Martindale, of Livingston, about costly refereeing errors over the weekend, and they’d tell you they happen.
But when a free-kick is given against you and you have a set-piece to defend, you have to be able to defend them.
Aberdeen failed to do this twice at Dens Park and were pegged back twice by the home side as a result, despite good goals from Calvin Ramsay and then Ross McCrorie.
If you don’t defend set-pieces, you leak goals, and Aberdeen have done this too many times this season under both former boss Stephen Glass and now new gaffer Goodwin – including twice on Saturday.
With the big men they have in there – centre-backs Declan Gallagher and David Bates, and goalkeeper Joe Lewis – the Dons lacked authority when defending their 18-yard box at Dens and it isn’t good enough.
Lewis in particular had quite a lot of flack in the aftermath of the game.
He’s been a very reliable goalkeeper during his Dons career, but this season in particular has not been great for him, and it is a conundrum for Joe and Goodwin to try to solve.
It’s not been the form you’d expect from him, whether it’s with the ball at his feet, commanding his area, or efforts getting past him with a bit of a question mark over them.
Should the armband go to someone else?
The club have been linked to both St Johnstone’s Zander Clark and St Mirren’s Jak Alnwick in recent months, and I think if there was a bit more pressure on him than is being put on by current no.2 Gary Woods, it might be the spark which helps Joe find his best form once more.
The experience and proven quality of Lewis over his time with the Reds cannot be questioned – the question is how do you bring that top quality back to the surface?
Although he is back serving as captain now, following the departure of Scott Brown, the keeper might benefit from the armband going to McCrorie – as has been mooted – or someone else for next season.
Some players thrive with the armband, but others find it a distraction from their own game.
Maybe that’s a change of direction for Joe and boss Goodwin to address once the season concludes, because I don’t think it’s a campaign the goalie would say he’s been happy with.
Staggies arrive at Pittodrie with plenty of attacking threat
A big, home crowd should help Aberdeen against Ross County.
No disrespect to the Staggies, but the expectation is a club the size of Aberdeen should be able to beat the visitors. It is vital they find a way to do it to at least give themselves a fighting chance of the top half.
However, it’s no given – not this season – with County now one of the most dangerous attacking teams in the Premiership under Malky Mackay’s stewardship.
The Dingwall outfit have only scored one goal less than third-placed Hearts over the course of the campaign.
Although a slow start due to Covid and a squad rebuild means their goals-against tally isn’t the best, they’ll arrive in the Granite City unbeaten for months at home, full of confidence and determined to seize their hard-earned chance at finishing in the top half.
They’re clearly going to be a tough team to keep out, but, if Aberdeen’s defence can do that, they’ll give themselves a good chance of winning the game.
It would be the most important shut-out of the season for the Dons, and one which allows them to hopefully go on to win, and then – and only then – turn their attention to events at Tynecastle.
From a neutral or media point of view, Saturday’s conclusion to the pre-split fixtures is going to be riveting – but, from an Aberdeen perspective, all we can hope is everything goes in their favour.
Celtic will now get Premiership title win over the line
I think the Scottish Premiership title race is now over following Celtic’s 2-1 comeback win at Ibrox on Sunday.
Cameron Carter-Vickers’ winner, which he lashed past Allan McGregor, looks to have ensured Ange Postecoglou’s team – who were under the cosh in the opening minutes in Govan – will add the top-flight trophy to the League Cup they won earlier this term.
It was a resilient performance – and quite different from the Parkhead hammering they dished out to their rivals earlier in the season – but it means the Celts now have a six-point advantage at the summit, with their far superior goal difference basically meaning it’s as good as a seven-point lead.
It is probably unrealistic to expect Postecoglou’s team to drop more points than they have in months over the course of five games to let Rangers back into things.
There’s been no sign of that kind of capitulation from the Australian’s men during what has been a fantastic first campaign from him in Scotland, and the odds of that happening would be very, very high.
Celtic now look to have the calmness, confidence, strength of character and quality to get it over the line, despite there still being pressure on them to finish it off.
The other factor to take into account is Rangers still being active in Europe and the extra pressure which will pile on them to add to the difficult situation domestically, as they try to reel in a Hoops side now well ahead of them.
It’ll be very challenging for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team to avoid any slip-ups with huge, all-or-nothing games left on both fronts.
World Cup draw should have Scotland dreaming of reaching knock-out rounds
Scotland fans had their appetites whetted on Friday by the draw for the Qatar 2022 World Cup groups ahead of the tournament in November.
The Tartan Army will be desperate to see their team take on not just the Auld Enemy England in Group B, but also get the chance at national revenge against Iran for the damaging draw at Argentina ’78.
There would also be the opportunity in the opening group game to play the United States of America in a competitive game for the first time.
It’s great Steve Clarke’s side are still in the hunt for a return to the World Cup for the first time since France ’98, although it’s unclear – given the situation in Ukraine – when they will meet their play-off semi-final rivals at Hampden, let alone play their potential final tie against Wales in Cardiff.
However, should the Scots qualify for the tournament later this year, I believe it isn’t just an entertaining draw, but a group they have a genuine chance of getting out of and would approach with optimism.
Two teams will progress from each of the eight groups to the last-16 stage.
They made history by reaching the European Championship last summer, and there’s no reason the squad – with some of the players we have – can’t make another giant leap forward if we earn the right to play at the finals.
There’s a long road to go before Scotland get to test themselves in Qatar, but at least we’ve still got hope.