Saints v Aberdeen preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Tuesday, 5th April 2011
Tomorrow night we play Aberdeen for the umpteenth time this season - and there is likely to be another game to come in the next few weeks - as we play our last home game before the split.
This fixture sums up everything that is wrong with the current SPL set-up. This will be the third time in around a month we have played Aberdeen and it is likely by the end of the season we'll have faced them six times. Fans are getting bored of this nonsense year after year, but sadly the powers that be seem to think this is a good thing and will shortly vote to reduce the league to 10 teams - meaning this state of affairs will continue for years to come. Both teams are probably sick of the sight of each other - especially after the last month.
Realistically, this is our last chance to pick up points before the split. Yes, we still have two more games to go before the crucial final five games, but as they are at Ibrox and Parkhead I think we can write off any hope of taking even a point from those two games. Our recent home record against Aberdeen is not too bad. Since we moved grounds, we've beaten them twice, drawn with them twice - naturally denied a win by a last minute goal on both occasions - and lost once, in a meaningless end of season fixture.
One of the draws snatched from the jaws of victory was just last month when we were seconds from Hampden before it was snatched away. The other was a midweek game. This does not bode well for tomorrow, although both of these draws involved snow, which hopefully won't make an appearance tomorrow night. If we go at Aberdeen the way we did in the second half of the cup game then we have a great chance to take victory and give our survival hopes a massive boost.
Of course, they given a huge help by Saturday's win over Hamilton that takes the gap over Accies to nine points with just seven games left. On paper, it looks unlikely that we can be caught - but we've all been following Saints too long to accept that it's done and dusted. There are plenty of twists and turns to come and we cannot take anything for granted until we are mathematically safe - if we ever reach that glorious position.
The team that started Saturday's crunch game was not the right one. The team that played when Michael Higdon woke up and pretended he was Didier Drogba was bang on - and it's no coincidence it was exactly the same 11 players that had been on the park when we were giving Aberdeen problems in the cup. Quite simply, Craig Dargo has to start. Having so many holding midfielders in from the off last weekend was ridiculous and the Dargo/Higdon partnership has worked well on numerous occasions. Put Dargo in from Goodwin and we surely can't go far wrong.
The rest of the team should stay the same, although it may be worth dropping Kenny McLean as he looked a tad jaded on Saturday. Aaron Mooy would be the ideal replacement, but it's more likely Dargo will take over from him. John Potter has been on the bench for the last two games and that is where he should remain - Lee Mair and Darren McGregor were fine last week. have them in the middle of the defence, have David van Zanten and Jure Travner providing the ammunition for Dargo and Higdon and get McLean, Hugh Murray and Steven Thomson controlling the midfield with Paul McGowan in the free role. We have no injury worries for once - although Danny Lennon has said that before when the likes of David Barron have been crocked!
Aberdeen have been enjoying a resurgence since Craig Brown took control around the turn of the year. Under Mark McGhee they had become a laughing stock, especially with that 9-0 thumping at Parkhead. McGhee was full of himself and rarely praised the opposition. Brown is the complete opposite - sometimes giving opponents praise when they don't deserve it - which may explain why he has been able to get so much more out of this group of players than McGhee ever could. Yes, he made a few January signings, but the majority of the players are the same.
Brown seems to have got the side a bit more organised and there just seems to be more about the team now than there ever was during McGhee's shocking time in charge. It does help that he has got a couple of good strikers who will cause our defence no end of problems. McGhee bizarrely let Chris Maguire go on loan to Kilmarnock last season but now he's back at Pittodrie he's doing well and was part of the Scotland squad that recently faced Brazil. Scott Vernon has rattled in the goals, particularly since Brown arrived, and his tally currently stands at 15. In reserve they have Nick Blackman - who Brown had at Motherwell earlier in the season - and Sone Aluko. Someone with his pace coming off the bench against our defence isn't worth thinking about.
Tomorrow night is another chance for us to resume our love-hate relationship with Paul Hartley, in that we hate him and he loves it. This has been going on ever since he was at Hamilton, right through his times with Raith Rovers, Hibs, Morton, the Saintees, Hearts and now Aberdeen. Both of Aberdeen's goals in Paisley have come as a result of his set-pieces. Despite the fact we detest him, we'd love to have a player like him in our midfield. He dictates play, pulls the strings and isn't afraid of doing the dirty work. The odds on him harming us again tomorrow must be pretty short - just as long as it isn't him scoring this week's last minute goal!
Aberdeen currently have a couple of former Saints in their squad, although Mark Howard hasn't played since Aberdeen came to Paisley way back in October - a game we won thanks to a last minute goal. The other ex Buddie arrived in January, David MacNamee finding a new club after six months or so on the dole. His early substitution in the original cup game last month indirectly led to the game going to a replay as it was his replacement, Rory McArdle, who scored the equaliser.
MacNamee wasn't the only defender Brown signed during January as former Rangers man Steven Smith came in on from Norwich. Obviously, Brown was concerned about the lack of fullbacks but that has something rectified in a bid to shore up the defence. He seems to have given keeper Jamie Langfield - outstanding against us in the cup - some of his confidence back and now he must get the likes of Zander Diamond and Andrew Considine back playing the way they can. If not, he has Nikola Vujadinovic waiting in reserve to slot in.
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