Willie Miller on Aberdeen: Cup hopes, new deals & praise for Lewis
I was lucky enough to lift the Scottish Cup four times as an Aberdeen player, and now I’m hoping that the current crop can get their hands on the trophy. Next up is a tricky Semi-Final tie against Hibernian this weekend, but I’m backing the Dons’ to make it through.
They’re heading into this tie on the back of six wins in the last seven games – and there’s a certain keeper who deserves a huge amount of praise for the Dons winning streak. Here’s my take on all that and more…
Hibs are a tough test – but Dons will progress
Aberdeen may have lost the last time they met Hibernian back in September 2015, but I think they’re well capable of winning this time around.
However, you can’t discount Hibs. They’ve been a little hit-and-miss in recent weeks, but they’ve now got the Ladbrokes Championship title sewn up, and as well as that showing what a quality side Neil Lennon’s built, it also means they can focus firmly on the Semi-Final.
However, Aberdeen’s form has been excellent of late. Aside from the Rangers match, they’ve been superb, winning the other six of the last seven games. And even that defeat was just down to a mad 10 minutes.
I certainly think they’ve got the firepower to win this Semi-Final. The two wide men – Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes – will be key in this game, and they put the opposition under so much pressure and open up defences. If those two are at the top of their game, then Aberdeen will be too good for Hibs.
Paying tribute to Dons rearguard
First off, I think Joe Lewis in goal has been fantastic ever since he arrived from Cardiff City last summer, and having such a solid keeper gives the defence heaps of confidence.
The full-backs have impressed me, as well. Especially Andrew Considine. He’s very creative – something which was highlighted by his very impressive hat-trick against Dundee a few weeks back. But he’s also every bit as talented in a defensive sense.
The one area of concern has been the absence of Mark Reynolds through injury, though the Reds have done very well without him. That said, he was a big miss in the Rangers game, and I’m sure fans were really glad to see him back on the bench against St Johnstone on Saturday.
Rangers slip-up doesn’t worry me
I know the recent 3-0 defeat at home to Rangers was a very poor result, but I don’t think there are any major problems. The Dons’ consistency in defence during the season as a whole leads me to believe it was just a minor blip.
In my view, this wasn’t even a game where Aberdeen were dominated. There was just a mad 10 minutes, and they were unlucky in the second half. The side created a number of chances before Rangers scored the opener, and Wes Foderingham produced a couple of excellent saves to keep them out.
If you take away that 10-minute spell, there’s been little wrong with the Dons’ defence for most of the season!
Let’s see what young guns can do
I think the natural move now for Derek McInnes is to start giving more of the youngsters and fringe players some game-time. Short of a major collapse in the next few games – which I can’t see happening – second place is Aberdeen’s.
There are some really good prospects trying to break into the side – the likes of Scott Wright and Frank Ross, to name just a couple – and I think we’ll see them get more opportunities in the coming weeks.
Keeping star men as vital as summer buys
I think the first priority for Derek will be trying to retain the likes of Ryan Jack and Ash Taylor, both of whom are out of contract in the summer. They’re key players, and I think whether they remain at Pittodrie will dictate – to some extent – how many new faces the manager is looking to bring in.
Whatever happens though, I think the two key areas he’ll look at are adding another centre-back, and one more creative player in attack. Personally, I’d be surprised if a midfielder joins this summer. That’s an area where the Dons are really pretty strong.
Euro improvement and closing Celtic gap
Aberdeen look set to enter Europe at the same stage next season, and the first aim just has to be to try and improve on this season. However, the draw dictates things a bit – and they ended up getting a good Maribor side last time, and narrowly going out.
But if the draw’s kind, I think they can definitely get further than the Third Qualifying Round in the Europa League next season.
Domestically, second place has to be the aim again. Celtic are massive favourites to win the Premiership again next season, and you can’t see anyone overtaking them in the coming year. So it’s just a case of getting as close to the Parkhead club as they possibly can.
The battle for second will be more competitive in 2017-18, though. Rangers are stronger under Pedro Caixinha, and they’re likely to strengthen in the summer transfer window. You’re likely to have Hibs back in the top-flight as well, so that’s another big club who will be aiming high. So it’ll be exciting to watch!
Up for the Cup
It’s great to see Aberdeen thriving in the Scottish Cup again. I won this trophy four times with the club, and it was always a truly special occasion.
The most memorable for me was the 1983 final, where we beat Rangers in extra-time thanks to an Eric Black goal. We probably weren’t at our best, but having lifted the European Cup Winners Cup just 10 days before, it was a pretty amazing feat.
It was a very tight game, but it meant we’d won the double. It was an incredible season for us, and lifting that trophy is something I’d love to see the current crop do this time around.
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