When Derek McInnes walked through Pittodrie’s front door to replace the retiring Craig Brown in March, the operation was underway. As the door slammed shut behind him his patient was critical. His patient was Aberdeen Football Club.
Standing, he could see life. Everywhere he turned there were reminders of when this famous institution couldn’t be more alive, but reminders are not good enough.
McInnes wasted no time in getting to work – he couldn’t afford not to.
He insisted that experienced campaigners, Rory Fallon, Gavin Rae, Isaac Osbourne, Robert Milsom and Gary Naysmith would be given the chance to win extended deals in the north-east, along with youngsters Mitch Megginson and Dan Twardzik. They didn’t do enough. All, in fact, were shown the exit door – as well as Stephen Hughes and Jordan Brown, who were told they could find new clubs despite having a year to run on their contracts.
It was clear to see that the Paisley-born manager is a ruthless operator and while Josh Magennis – the only player to survive the cull – headed for the sun with his team mates, the foundations of the rebuilding job were in place.
By the end of May the dynamic Willo Flood was secured, quickly followed by Barry Robson as Dons fans began to buy in to their gaffer’s vision. Long-suffering Dandies had further reason for optimism in June with Ryan Jack committing his future to the club, following in the footsteps of star man Niall McGinn, who had also put pen to paper on a fresh deal.
By the time the rigours of pre-season had started again, Calvin Zola, Gregg Wylde and Lawrence Shankland had been employed, helping their new club to a prolific pre-season in which they found the net 21 times.
Our patient was showing signs of improvement.
McInnes embarked on his first full campaign in the Pittodrie hot seat with a 2-1 win over Kilmarnock and by the time his charges had beaten Motherwell 3-1 at Fir Park the following weekend the hope among supporters that the Dons were back had gone – it had turned to belief.
But old habits die-hard and defeats to Celtic and Hearts had the Pittodrie punters squirming uncomfortably as they anticipated another slap in the face from their disillusioned giant. Extra time and penalties against Alloa in the League Cup and a history of shameful defeats to lower-league counterparts could mean only one thing – but not this time. As Mark Reynolds’ decisive penalty flashed behind Scott Bain these loyal punters were spared that obligatory slap.
For once Aberdeen had successfully negotiated their way past a lower-league opponent thanks to a 6-5 penalty success. Still a struggle, yes but it was mission accomplished.
Uninspiring maybe, but it seems success that night was telling. Aberdeen have gone on to claim eight points from a possible twelve as well as dishing out a 5-0 hammering to Falkirk, allowing them to progress to a League Cup quarter-final crunch with Motherwell.
McInnes has brought freshness, positivity and pride; qualities that had very much evaporated during the staleness of Mark McGhee and Craig Brown’s predominately ill-fated spells in the home dugout at Pittodrie. He has dealt admirably with injuries to key figures – a job requirement these days for any Aberdeen manager.
But unlike his predecessors, his faith in youngsters has paid dividends, so much so that fit-again McGinn, Robson, Flood and Anderson will have to call on years of experience to dislodge the kids vying for their places.
Some Derek McInnes medicine was just what the doctor ordered. Aberdeen Football Club are not out of the woods yet but at least they’re sitting up, aware of their surroundings once again.