Aberdeen FC: A season review
With Aberdeen due to return to competitive action on June 30th, there is little time to breathe before they kick off the new campaign. So how will the Dons reflect on the season 2015/16?
* Credible Title Challenge
Aberdeen have been genuine title contenders throughout the season. In previous years, Celtic have had the league wrapped up in early Spring and the fact that the title race lasted until well into May, reflects a credible league campaign for the Dons. Although the post-split games were a disappointment, the overall league campaign should be judged a success with the team amassing a similar points tally to the previous year.
* The Manager
Without question, Derek McInnes is the best manager to have been at the helm since Sir Alex Ferguson departed the Dons in the 1980’s. He has a steely determination, has built a fantastic rapport with the fans and players, and has been a shrewd operator in the transfer market. He appears settled in the Granite City and keen to build upon the excellent platform he has created. His work will not have gone un-noticed by others, particularly in England where the financial rewards are greater. However, the Red Army can only hope that his stint at Bristol City will convince him that the grass is not always greener and his longer term job prospects are better served by building a dynasty at Pittodrie.
* Graeme Shinnie & Johnny Hayes
Had Leigh Griffiths not single-handedly won the title for Celtic, there is no doubt that Johnny Hayes would have been crowned the SPFL Player of the Year. His form throughout the season has been outstanding and he has regularly outshone previous star-man, Niall McGinn. Fast, direct and effective, he is a player that excites the fans and will be important next season. Graeme Shinnie was an inspired acquisition last summer and realistically, many suspect he would not have come to Pittodrie had it not been for his Aberdeen roots. Regulars at Pittodrie are still perplexed as to how he was overlooked for both of the recent Scotland squads and also for the SPFL Player of the Year shortlist. Tenacious, good on the ball and versatile, Shinnie has been another standout performer in a strong Aberdeen team.
* The Cups
16th March 2014; Aberdeen were crowned Scottish League Cup winners in front of over 40,000 foot soldiers from the Red Army. The Aberdeen faithful recall that day fondly and it whetted the appetite for further success. However, the performance in the cups this season was sub-standard and despite an overall consistency in form across the season, the team failed to deliver in both competitions, firstly against Hibernian in the League Cup and subsequently their Edinburgh neighbours Hearts in the Scottish Cup. Granted, these were tricky draws, but with the 2016 Scottish Cup Final being played between two Championship sides this weekend, it further highlights the cup failures as missed opportunities.
It is still hard to fathom what exactly happened to the Dons during the month of October. After an unblemished start to the league season, stretching to 8 games and including victories over both Celtic and Hearts, the season stuttered. First there was the League cup exit to Hibernian, followed by a return of 1 point from 15 available from the end of September through to end of October. Under McInnes, the Dons have demonstrated resilience and an ability to react positively after defeat, a trait not seen by Aberdeen teams in recent years. However, this temporarily deserted the team and ultimately cost them significant ground in the title race which they were unable to make up.
* Losing Danny Ward
“Danny who?” was the general consensus amongst the Aberdeen support when the untested Liverpool reserve joined on loan in the summer of 2015. However, as with the majority of Derek McInnes’ signings, it turned into an inspired move and during his short spell with the club, he became a fans favourite. Possessing an excellent physique, Ward commanded his penalty area in a confident manner belying his relative inexperience, and his shot stopping skills were excellent. The quality of his performances turned heads, including Jurgen Klopp, who decided to take Ward back down to Merseyside for closer inspection. Despite limited opportunities for first team action at Liverpool, he has usurped Adam Bogdan as the back-up to Simon Mignolet and there is no question that he has a bright future ahead of him. The inability to adequately replace Ward was undoubtedly a factor behind their title charge slipping away as the season progressed.
Looking ahead to next season, there is plenty to be optimistic about. With Rangers returning to the top-flight, and with far greater financial clout as evidenced by their current pursuit of Joey Barton, the competition will be fierce. However, that could play into Aberdeen’s hands. With increased competition, there is the hope that teams across the league will take more points from each other, and this could lead to the most competitive title race in recent years. Aberdeen have moved quickly to enhance the squad, with the acquisition of Jayden Stockley from Bournemouth and Miles Storey on a pre-contract agreement from Swindon, increasing the firepower of the squad. Further reinforcements are required, notably at centre back and central midfield, while the promising Danny Rogers will look to cement the goalkeeping jersey when he returns from his loan spell with Falkirk. With Niall McGinn and Johnny Hayes set for international duty at the Euros, it will be interesting to see how McInnes provides them with the necessary rest to ensure that they can produce the quality they are capable of throughout another long season. If they remain fit and on-form, it should be another exciting season for the Dons.