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|<-Page||<-Team||Sat 26 Feb 2011 Aberdeen 0 Hearts 0||Team->||Page->|
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|Jim Jefferies 2nd||<-auth||Scott McDermott||auth->||Mike Tumilty|
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Aberdeen 0 Hearts 0
Feb 28 2011 By Scott McDermott
SONE ALUKO once teased and tormented Bayern Munich's defence as Aberdeen embarked on a memorable European journey.
But since that unforgettable night at Pittodrie in 2008, the Dons winger has appeared to be on a road to nowhere.
Those highs under former boss Jimmy Calderwood seemed a million miles away with Mark McGhee at the helm as the club stumbled from one fall to the next - and Aluko was posted missing.
But the Englishman believes new gaffer Craig Brown can turn back the clock and secure European football again.
The chance to compete at that level once more could play a key role in negotiating a deal to keep the talented 22-year-old at Pittodrie beyond the summer.
In Saturday's stalemate with high-flying Hearts, Aluko produced glimpses of the form he showed three years ago against the likes of Bayern and FC Copenhagen when Calderwood's side reached the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.
He admits it wasn't easy to hit rock bottom under McGhee but is convinced a return to the good times aren't far away under Broon and sidekick Archie Knox.
Aluko said: "We're pushing for the top six now and that kind of thing will influence my decision to stay or not.
"It helps, doesn't it? You want to be at a club that's challenging.
"When I first came here we were in Europe for two or three seasons on the bounce. That's what this club needs to do, it's where we all want to be.
"Can we get back there under Craig? I think we are getting there, slowly.
"Craig and Archie have brought in their own ways and methods, as well as recruiting a few players. They have great experience and are organised. That's helping the team produce performances.
"Aberdeen don't have a divine right to be in Europe, we have to earn it every season.
"But it's where the players want to be. It has been disappointing for the club and fans that we've been undera c h i e v i ng for a while. But we'll get b a c k there. This c l u b has been through some low moments before and risen again.
That's what we will try to do under Craig.
"My contract's up at the end of the season and I'm always playing for my future here. In football, someone is always watching and judging you, especially when a new manager comes in. "This is an important time for me at Aberdeen and I can't rest on my laurels. The contract situation can't get into my head or affect my game - I just have to try to do the best I can on the pitch.
"When the club want to speak to me I'll happily talk about a contract but it's not about me, it's about Aberdeen."
Aluko came within inches of breaking the deadlock against the Jambos on Saturday with a trademark run and shot after just three minutes.
But after cutting in from the flank and unleashing a strike that looked destined for the top corner, Hearts keeper Marian Kello produced a world-class stop to deny him.
The Dons wide man feels he's gradually nearing top form again, even if he has been forced to do it on Pittodrie's awful pitch.
Aluko said: "I thought I'd scored early on but the keeper pulled off a good save.
"Kello also made another couple of important blocks at the end of the game. He kept Hearts in it.
"I'm trying to get back to my best form. That's the aim but I have to take it one game at a time right now.
"I feel fitter, stronger and quicker. I'm also having a greater effect on the games now, which is important.
"I want to help the team and my all-round game is improving. It's coming back.
"The pitch is tough to play on. It can take three or four touches just to control the ball. It's impossible to play one-touch football.
"We have five away games in a row now but I've seen some of the other pitches in Scotland and they aren't the best. I'd rather have the devil I know at Pittodrie!" St Johnstone are up next on Wednesday and Aluko knows victory is vital in the race for a top-six spot.
He said: "It's a big week. St Johnstone are one of the teams around us and we have to pick up points against them if we want to make the top six."
Aberdeen were the better side on Saturday as Hearts failed in their bid to go second top of the SPL for 24 hours at least.
Jim Jefferies' men had Kello to thank for earning them a point.
The Slovakian followed up his save from Aluko with a terrific first-half stop from Rory McArdle's header.
Then, as the Dons pushed for a winner in injury-time, Kello thwarted sub Nick Blackman as he clawed his net-bound shot past the post. When the Dons did get the ball past the Jambos No.1, Ryan Jack could only hit the side-netting.
Hearts missed key men like Ian Black, Lee Wallace and Kevin Kyle as they failed to pose an attacking threat.
And boss Jefferies suffered another injury blow when new signing Andy Webster hobbled off after just half an hour with a groin strain.
The only time the Jambos tested Jamie Langfield was just after half-time when the Aberdeen goalie pulled off a cracking save from Rudi Skacel's 18-yard drive.
Dons gaffer Brown was pleased with the point and said: "We're improving all the time and playing with a lot more authority now. We have to be pleased with a point at home because it's against a top side in Hearts.
"Their keeper made some excellent saves, particularly the one from Aluko early on."
Player ratings: Aberdeen v Hearts
Feb 28 2011
Jamie Langfield 7
Brilliant save to deny Skacel but had little else to do.
David McNamee 6
Kept Templeton relatively quiet but unable to bomb on.
Rory McArdle 7
Stitches in head wound didn't stop him clearing balls.
Andrew Considine 7
Cut out silly mistakes to have solid game in the centre.
Steven Smith 7
Linked up well with Milsom at times on left flank.
Paul Hartley 6
Kept an eye on Skacel and organised those around him.
Ryan Jack 7
Neat and tidy on the ball but should have scored.
Rob Milsom 7
Terrific left foot but just couldn't find killer pass.
Chris Maguire 7
Busy up front but rarely looked like finding the net.
Sone Aluko 8
Dribbling was excellent on a difficult pitch.
Scott Vernon 7
Involved in good build-up play and won his headers.
Subs: Derek Young - on at right-back but did well to get forward, 3. Nick Blackman - couldn't grab a winner, 2. Josh Magennis - on for Aluko late on, 2.
Marian Kello 9
Superb stops from Aluko, McArdle and Blackman.
Craig Thomson 6
Pinpoint set-piece delivery but tested by Aluko.
Marius Zaliukas 6
Shaky start but grew into the game and was steady.
Andy Webster 2
Injury curse struck again after just half an hour.
Eggert Jonsson 6
Feisty joust with Maguire but distribution let him down.
Adrian Mrowiec 5
Struggled as Dons midfield dominated for long spells.
Ryan Stevenson 5
Passing wasn't up to its usual standard.
Rudi Skacel 6
Improved in second half. Denied goal by Langfield.
David Templeton 5
Struggling for form, pitch wasn't ideal for him.
Andrew Driver 5
Found it difficult to get in behind Smith.
Stephen Elliott 4
Lone front man was far too isolated.
Subs: Ismael Bouzid - solid enough, 5. Calum Elliot - struggled, 2. Gary Glen - poor, 2.
MEN WHO MATTER
Seems to be getting the best out of players like McArdle and Considine - and suddenly guys like Aluko are hitting form as well. Dons looked solid and would have won the game if it wasn't for the brilliance of Kello. 8
With key players like Black, Wallace and Kyle out, Driver and Templeton got a chance. But on a shocking pitch they offered little going forward. He will know it was Kello who earned his side a point. 6
Hearts were lucky to get away with a draw. They were well below par middle to front but deserve credit for being resilient. Dons continue to improve under Brown and should have had three points.
MAN IN BLACK
Mike Tumilty had one major decision to make when Templeton looked to be caught by McArdle but Jefferies admitted ref didn't have best view. 6
Taken from the Daily Record
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