Aberdeen’s battle to secure another second-placed finish in the Ladbrokes Premiership has been made tougher by the return of a resurgent Rangers. But club director and former Dons boss Craig Brown is positive about the club’s hopes as we head into the second half of the campaign.
Ladbrokes News caught up with the legendary gaffer to get the lowdown on life at Pittodrie, covering everything from James Maddison to Derek McInnes, and squad rotation to the club’s terrific away support…
LN: There’s little doubt the league title is staying at Celtic Park, so it’s all about the race for second place now. Rangers lead Aberdeen by two points, and Hearts are just about in the hunt, six points behind the Dons. Do you have a good feeling about the club retaining that spot?
CB: Aberdeen have been second for each of the last two seasons, and that’s a great compliment to Derek McInnes and the players.
This year it’s a tougher ask with the return of Rangers. They’ve got a huge fanbase and the budget to bring in some huge names.
But the recruitment and hard-work at the club, combined with the support we get at Pittodrie means we’re always looking to challenge the bigger clubs, and that means I think we have a good shot at getting second spot once again.
It was a huge boost to win those three games leading up to the winter break because everyone’s been positive and able to feel refreshed while we’ve been in Dubai. And we’ve played a game over there [against FC Bunyodkor], so have kept up the routine of preparing for and playing in games.
LN: Talking of those three wins, Aberdeen enjoyed a fine end to December, beating Motherwell, Hamilton and Hearts in successive games. Who are the players most impressing you in that side right now?
CB: I think it’s been more a case of the team as a collective than individual performances.
Derek brought in quite a few players in the summer, and a lot of them have done well so far, but recently he’s reverted to some of the guys who were a big part of last season’s outfield in recent games – the likes of Ryan Jack, Ash Taylor and Mark Reynolds. And they’ve all looked superb in recent weeks.
There’s really healthy competition in the squad right now, and I think that’s getting the best out of the guys who’ve been at the club for some years. The presence of this talented new crop means everyone has to make a very strong case for a spot in the team.
Everything in the garden is rosy at the moment for Aberdeen, and after this break, they’ll be ideally prepared to take on the second half of the season. And looking at the structure of the club, the squad, the support we get – especially away from home – things appear very positive for the long-term as well.
LN: The first league game after the break is against Dundee, but it’s the second at Celtic Park, which could be truly memorable. The Dons have beaten Celtic twice in the past 18 months. Do you think this could be the game when their unbeaten season ends?
CB: Yes, it might well be. I think Celtic will be worried about the game, because of those two wins, and the fact that the last meeting in the league [a 1-0 win for the Hoops] was such a close encounter.
This season’s Celtic under Brendan Rodgers are a different proposition to the one before, and there’s a massive feel-good factor around that club, as you’d expect. But I think we’ll see a superb fixture, and one which is very close – and it could prove to be the day their unbeaten run is arrested.
Brendan and Derek are good friends, and they have great mutual respect for one another. So neither will underestimate what the other can do tactically and the players at their disposal.
LN: Derek McInnes has given opportunities to a number of young players throughout this campaign – and the likes of James Maddison and Jayden Stockley have really repaid that faith. What makes Pittodrie such a good place for young talent to develop?
CB: Well, I think first off – the club can attract some fantastic young prospects by virtue of being Aberdeen. It’s a well-known club, and so many people know the history of the team, especially back in the days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The fans are also a huge part of it, and they’re very supportive of the new guys coming in.
Like you say, that’s been repaid in full. Maddison’s been exceptional, and obviously scored that incredible winner against Rangers, as well as providing a lot of assists this season. And the other guys like Stockley and [Miles] Storey have had a real impact as well.
LN: Do you think we’ll see any new faces arrive this month?
CB: The manager’s on the case, though of course identifying new talent is a year-round thing. He’s got a very good recruitment expert in Ross Richardson, and he’s capable of spotting real talents. Ross was a huge part of securing Danny Ward on loan from Liverpool last season, and he was brilliant in net.
Ross is based in England, and it’s great having someone based down there – we’ve managed to get the likes of Maddison and others from south of the border, and without giving too much away, I think that will continue to be a good avenue for us.
Meanwhile, in the Ladbrokes Premiership, they’re 11/8 in the Betting without Celtic, and 1/5 in the Betting without the Old Firm.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing