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Saturday, 15 March 2014

Aberdeen: Will there finally be a happy ending to the Dons' recent horror story?


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There was a time when being an Aberdeen fan was a glorious occupation. Under Sir Alex Ferguson the Dons were winning everything under the sun, dominating the Old Firm on their own patch and even seeing off European greats like Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

The Pittodrie story in the 80s was like a fairytale and it looked like the good times were never going to end.

Then Sir Alex Ferguson left and reality hit hard. The Dons were going to have to pay for their success and the highs of Gothenburg were replaced with the gut-wrenching despair and humilation of defeats by Queen of the South, Stenhousemuir, Skonto Riga and Queen's Park.

It's been 14 years since Aberdeen last featured in a major cup final. On my 22nd birthday, May 27, in 2000, Ebbe Skovdahl's men took on Rangers at Hampden in the Scottish Cup, but the game was effectively over after three minutes when Rangers striker Rod Wallace smashed Jim Leighton's jaw and the Scotland great had to be stretchered off. A sad way for Leighton to end his glittering career.

Aberdeen took a gamble with their subs by not naming a sub goalie. It backfired horificly. Striker Robbie Winters replaced Leighton in between the sticks but the result was a foregone conclusion. Remember, this was an Aberdeen side that only avoided relegation due to Falkirk's ground being deemed unsuitable for the top division. It took Rangers 30 minutes to breach Winters' net and then the floodgates opened. Aberdeen lost the game 4-0.

Afc doddsYou have to go back to 1995 for the last time Aberdeen lifted aloft anything of great note. Goals from Duncan Shearer and Billy Dodds sealed a 2-0 win over Dundee in the League Cup Final at Hampden.

But the Aberdeen horror story was already under way long before the Coca-Cola Cup found its way to Pittodrie.

Legendary captain Willie Miller took the helm in 1992 and led the club to two second placed finishes and two cup finals, but in the 1994/95 season the unthinkable almost happened. Aberdeen were almost relegated following the season from hell. Miller was axed in February and Roy Aitken took charge. The former Celtic captain steered the Dons off the foot of the table, but they had to win a play-off against Dunfermline to retain their top flight status. They did the job in a two-legged affair, but the damage had been done. 

From being a major force in Scottish football, Aberdeen were becoming a major figure of fun. And the rest of Scotland was lapping it up.

You see the thing with horror stories is they never seem to end. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Saw, Nigthmare on Elm Street. They just go on and on. I mean what was Freddie Krueger in 3D all about, seriously! Just when you think it's all over they come back with avengane, inflicting more pain and suffering on the viewer. 

Apart from a brief respite under Jimmy Calderwood when Aberdeen restored some pride by reaching the last 32 of the Europa League, the Dons fans have not had much to cheer about. But still they come out in their thousands to back their club. Pittodrie will never be a cauldron of noise, but their away support is second to none and a great advert for the club.

You could say Aberdeen fans are a gluton for punishment. They've seen the Dons torn apart regularly by Celtic and humiliated by minnows like Queen of the South and Stenhousemuir. Yet they still keep coming back, waiting desperately for their trophy drought to come to an end. And yet there always seems to be something that stands in their way from glory. In 2008 a place in the Scottish Cup final was theirs for the taking. It was only Queen of the South standing in their way but the Doonhamers ran out 4-3 winners. Four years later it was Hibs who ruined Aberdeen's big day.

McinnesBut it finally looks as though it may now be safe again to come out from behind the sofa. Derek McInnes replaced Craig Brown as manager last April and he has had a whirlwind 11 months in charge. He has assembled a fantastic squad of youth and experience, the players are loving his style of football and the fans are fully behind the former Bristol City chief. For the fist time in years, Aberdeen are in one final, in the semi-final of another and currently sitting second in the league.

Aberdeen are playing some great attacking football and are resolute at the back. Going forward the Dons have some real attacking flair. Peter Pawlett's pace and detemination to take on players frightens the opposition to death. Jonny Hayes is full of running and has a final ball to boot, Niall McQuinn, although he isn't as deadly in front of goal as he was last season, is still a major threat, while in Adam Rooney they have a proven goalscorer.

The experience of Barry Robson and Willo Flood has been invaluable for McInnes' side too. Both men have played at the highest level and know how to win the ball and keep it ticking over. 

While defensively Russell Anderson, the only survivor from Aberdeen's last cup appearance in 2000, is a rock at the back and Considine, Reynolds and Logan have ensured Jamie Langfield hasn't had to pick the ball out of the net too many times this season. In fact, the Dons have yet to concede a goal in the League Cup.

No wonder 40,000 plus fans are making plans to hit Glasgow this weekend.

Aberdeen have had some decent players during the past decade or so. Players who have opted to further their career down south. Zander Diamond, once touted as a £1m target for Celtic, is currently battling the drop at Northampton Town in League Two on loan from Burton Albion, Fraser Fyvie is on the sidelines at Wigan following a loan spell at Shewsbury, Ryan Fraser is at Bournemouth and Kevin McNaughton is at Cardiff City. There is also Sone Aluko who is at Hull City and Lee Miller at Carlisle. I wonder what some of them will be thinking about this weekend when Aberdeen run out in the final?

The Dons buried some of their ghosts in their emphatic 4-0 win over St Johnstone in the semi-final of this competiton and are now just 90 minutes away from ending their trophy drought. With a possible cup double on the horizon Aberdeen fans have an awful lot to smile about. But, as McInnes has been telling his players all week, for all of their endeavour this season, they have won nothing. They've come a long, long way in such a short time, but nobody is going to give them the trophy for selling so many tickets. They have to stay focused and complete the job on Sunday.

If they can leave Celtic Park with the trophy McInnes will become an Aberdeen legend, the Dons' horror story can finally be slammed shut and a new generation of fans can wax lyrical about their glory days. 

Calling all Aberdeen fans: Can the Dons finally end their recent horror story? How good is this current Aberdeen side? Do you believe McInnes can deliver the glory days back to Pittodrie? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

Article by Colin Illingworth

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