Billy Dodds: Cup final, Aberdeen form & why they can end Celtic run
I have fond memories of my time at Pittodrie, and none fonder than netting against Dundee in the League Cup Final back in 1995.
And while it’s a very tough test, it’s not impossible we’ll see Aberdeen lifting major silverware again this year, as they head into a Scottish Cup Final against Celtic.
Here’s my thoughts on the pair’s second Hampden Park showdown of the season, as well as my take on the Dons’ brilliant 2017, the club’s summer transfer aims and – of course – Adam Rooney, as he hits the 20-goal mark for the third season running.
Impressive Dons doing it week in, week out
The biggest thing that’s impressed me from Aberdeen this season is their consistency. They’re a smaller club than Rangers, and Derek McInnes is working with a fairly modest budget, but they’ve looked continually strong throughout the campaign.
In the end, it looks like they won’t just finish above Rangers – they’ll do so emphatically. There’s a nine-point gap between the sides right now, and when you look at some of their recent performances, especially away from home, they’re sure to pick up quite a few more points in those final three games.
Shoring up defence key in well-balanced squad
In terms of building for next season, I don’t think this Dons side has any big deficiencies. However, I do think they could do with another defender – because you saw their standards fall a bit at the back when Mark Reynolds was out injured.
Peter Pawlett will need replacing, as he’s off to MK Dons. But I don’t think there’s a big weakness that Derek needs to fix this summer. It’s just about bolstering the squad as a whole – especially with European football on the horizon.
There are a few players at Pittodrie whose futures are currently uncertain, so it could be that they’re forced into doing more transfer business than usual – but I’d be surprised if we saw more than five or six new arrivals in the summer.
Pittodrie trip could break Celtic’s unbeaten streak
I absolutely think Aberdeen can end Celtic’s unbeaten league run at Pittodrie. I’m not saying they’ll definitely do it, but if any side can end that record, it’s the Dons. Their home record is terrific this season, and if they play to the best of their capabilities, there’s definitely a chance of three points for the hosts.
Pittodrie is such a hard place to come for visiting sides this season, and although Celtic have beaten them in the previous four meetings, a couple of those have been won by just the odd goal.
In a tactical sense, it’ll be interesting to see what both sides do. The league positions are guaranteed, really, for both sides – so Derek or Brendan Rodgers might look to experiment a bit. Or they could take it as a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Scottish Cup Final.
Psychologically, I think it would be huge if Aberdeen can end Celtic’s unbeaten streak ahead of the cup final, and I think we’ll see a really big performance from them in front of that home crowd.
Celtic are obviously a brilliant side this season, but taking points off them isn’t impossible. Ross County got a draw with them in the Highlands a few weeks ago, and Partick Thistle took a point from Parkhead last month as well.
So I fancy Aberdeen to take at least a point from this game, and if they can keep it tight up until – say – the hour mark, there’s no reason why the Dons can’t sneak a win.
Cup triumph and tears could help Dons
Whatever happens in a cup final, even the worst result gives you useful experience of playing on that stage. I was lucky enough to play in cup winning teams at three clubs – Dundee, Rangers and Aberdeen. And I learnt a lot from all of those games.
Heading into this year’s Scottish Cup Final, Aberdeen will be helped by having won the 2014 League Cup, with quite a lot of those players – the likes of Jonny Hayes, Niall McGinn, Adam Rooney, Andrew Considine etc.
But more than that, I think they’ll be spurred on by the memory of that 3-0 defeat to Celtic in the League Cup Final earlier this season.
The way that final transpired will have really disappointed them, and they need to rectify it. The first thing is to go and make it competitive this time around, because Celtic blew them away in that 3-0 game. The Hoops were good, but they didn’t need to be great on the day, because Aberdeen never did their part.
Celtic are a great side, but some teams fear them too much. The Dons need to make them realise they’re in a game, and get at them for 90 minutes – or more. Last time it was just a nice, easy cup final for Brendan Rodgers and his players. And Aberdeen can’t let that happen again.
They have experience now of winning and losing cup finals, and whatever the outcome, I think this one will definitely be far tighter than the 3-0.
Rooney hits treble 20 for Dons
Scoring 20 goals in a season for any club is an impressive feat, but to do it in three successive seasons is a quite incredible achievement. So congratulations to Adam Rooney.
I think Adam’s goal against Heart of Midlothian at the weekend tells you everything you need to know about why he’s such a potent striker. As a former striker myself, I can tell you that what he has can’t be taught. It’s just instinct.
He’s unbelievable at knowing when the ball will arrive. For his goal at Tynecastle, none of the defenders reacted when Pawlett’s shot rebounded, and Adam has got there first and tucked it away. That typifies him.
Adam is also a team player. He works ever so hard, and though he’s not the most naturally skilful player, he’s a fantastic goalscorer and asset to the team.
Dons winning streak points suggests they’ll continue to best the rest
Aberdeen have now won 17 of their last 22 games in all competitions, which is sensational – especially in a league containing this Celtic side, as well as Hearts and Rangers.
I think a genuine title tilt next season is beyond the Reds, purely because if Brendan Rodgers continues to improve Celtic, then they’re going to be impossible to keep pace with over the course of a season.
But can Aberdeen secure second spot again next season? Definitely.
I think Rangers will come back stronger in 2017-18, but Aberdeen have worked brilliantly as a side, have so much quality and have made Pittodrie a fortress. So the fact they didn’t just finish above the Gers, but did it so comfortably, means I fully expect them to be second in the table again next season.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing