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Willie Miller: January likely to make or break season for Jim Goodwin’s Aberdeen

Aberdeen manager Jim Goodwin and Jonny Hayes look dejected at full-time after the 0-0 Premiership draw with Ross County. Image: SNS
Aberdeen manager Jim Goodwin and Jonny Hayes look dejected at full-time after the 0-0 Premiership draw with Ross County. Image: SNS

January looks like it will be an huge month in determining the outcome of Aberdeen’s season – and manager Jim Goodwin and his players will know it.

In terms of the Premiership, the 2022/23 top-flight looks like it is shaping up almost as a replica to 2021/22.

Can Dons still catch Hearts?

I would hope third-placed Hearts – although they are now five points better off than stuttering Aberdeen with a game in hand – may still be within the Dons’ reach, despite snatching pole position.

Again, like last term, there are a glut of teams from fourth place down with very little between them.

Aberdeen may still be in fourth place on 26 points, despite four demoralising losses and a draw since the post-winter break restart, but Hibs – going through their own struggles  – are just three points worse off, all the way down in eighth.

Hearts have taken third spot from Aberdeen since the winter break. Image: Shutterstock

Meanwhile, fifth-place St Mirren are level on points with Aberdeen with two games in hand, and sixth-place Livingston are just one point behind Goodwin’s men with one game in hand, although neither have been racking up wins of late either.

I would hope at the very least the Dons, with their resources, can find some form and pull well clear of St Mirren and Livi to finish fourth in the league, while also trying to catch Hearts, before the campaign is out

Performance v Ross County was an improvement

I still believe Goodwin’s Aberdeen can make this a successful season, but it is all going to hinge on finding the answers being asked of him and his players, not least by the Red Army.

The campaign to this point, you have to say, has not been good enough from the Dons – but I’m not ready to write off the positive signs there were during the early months of the season, where Goodwin’s team were the great goalscoring entertainers at Pittodrie.

There have certainly been negatives, including the team’s enduring, poor away form, and their problem with leaking goals.

Although the four post-winter break losses – against Celtic, Rangers, St Mirren and Kilmarnock – have been the most disappointing period so far, Monday’s 0-0 draw at home to Ross County, while not being a game where the Dons got fans back on side by scoring a few goals or getting back to winning ways, was far better than their dreadful showing at Killie.

They dominated the game against the Staggies, but were just a little bit lacking in the final third to take all three points.

Vicente Besuijen is denied on the line County keeper Ross Laidlaw in one of the Dons two best chances of the game. Image: Shutterstock

Aberdeen’s goal threat has dropped off a bit during the current slump.

I thought – although it didn’t pay off – it was good to see Goodwin put Christian Ramirez in against County, and show he is trying to find the formula which will increase his side’s points return.

Pressure on Goodwin and Aberdeen expected – but January is chance to set course for successful season

What you have to say is January – in more ways than one – is looking like a month which will have huge ramifications on how Aberdeen’s season winds up.

Not only is there the chance to secure the reinforcements, in defence in particular, the squad needs, but there are also a series of crucial matches against rivals in the Premiership, alongside massive games in both cup competitions.

After St Johnstone – who are two points behind the Dons – at Pittodrie this weekend, there’s Rangers in the League Cup semi-final at Hampden, then a chance to gain ground on Hearts in a top-flight clash at Tynecastle, before the Scottish Cup trip to Darvel and a Premiership trip to Hibs to close out the month.

Right now, there is pressure on Goodwin – as there would be on any Aberdeen manager after a run of four losses and a goalless draw from five league matches.

Lose a few of the games remaining in January and the Dons may just about confirm the 2022/23 season is going to go down as a very ordinary one – a state of affairs which would obviously intensify the scrutiny on the manager and his Reds players.

However, if Goodwin finds the answers to the questions being asked of him and his players, and they win all of those games, all of a sudden Aberdeen will be on course for a very good campaign by exiting the month with a bolstered squad, a strong position in the league, a League Cup final to look forward to, as well as another chance at silverware in the Scottish Cup.

No begrudging County’s approach given their league position

Monday’s game at Pittodrie was the second time I had seen Ross County in a few days, having also been at their 3-0 defeat away at Dundee United last week.

Although the Staggies offered much more going forward against United, they ended up with nothing to show for it – while, against Aberdeen, Malky Mackay was pragmatic.

They set up for a draw and invited the Reds to try to find a way to break through. I don’t think anyone would question Mackay, given his team’s current position at the foot of the table, adopting that approach.

They were rewarded with a 0-0 draw and left the Granite City with a valuable point, and I thought their back five defended extremely well, were brave, well organised and limited the Dons to just two real chances.

Ross County’s Keith Watson during the clash with Aberdeen. Image: Shutterstock

At the moment, like the middle of the Premiership table, the bottom grouping – County, United, Motherwell and Kilmarnock – is very tight.

A point here and there could end up being crucial, but, like at Aberdeen, January recruitment could also be deciding factor in which club finishes where come the end of the season.

County are generally pretty active during these periods, and Malky has shown a knack for unearthing quality players in the past.

If he can do it again this month, it could turn the Staggies’ season and secure their safety from relegation in the process.

Frank McGarvey: The only striker good enough to get me sent off twice

The biggest compliment I can pay Frank McGarvey as a striker is I was only sent off three times in my career – and two of those ordering-offs came against him.

I was really sad to hear of former St Mirren, Celtic and Scotland striker Frank’s death from cancer, aged 66.

There have been many tributes to Frank. As far as I’m concerned, he was right up there in terms of the best strikers I defended against.

The most challenging forwards I took on regularly during my Aberdeen career were Paul Sturrock, Charlie Nicholas, Ally McCoist… and McGarvey.

Frank McGarvey gets in a shot on the Aberdeen goal before Willie Miller tackles during the 1984 Scottish Cup semi-final first leg at Pittodrie – which ended 0-0. Image: Aberdeen Journals

Invariably, if there was a tall striker and a small striker, I always had to deal with the small one, so it was always me versus Frank when we played against St Mirren – where he had two spells – or Celtic for about 15 years between 1975 and 1990.

He was really difficult to defend against, because, unlike a lot of strikers, it was very hard to judge what he was going to do when he got the ball.

I also played on the same side as Frank for the national team, and off the field he was a lovely, easy-going guy, who always had a smile on his face.

However, playing against him certainly didn’t put a smile on my face, and – with his ability and scoring record – he was very unfortunate not to get more Scotland caps due to some of the other striking talents we had during those years, including Kenny Dalglish.