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Aberdeen make better use of scant resources

Published Date: 11 January 2010
THIS should have been a close contest. Two evenly matched teams, side by side in the SPL, miserly in defence yet not exactly free-scoring at the other end, could reasonably have been expected to keep this Scottish Cup game tight.
A replay seemed a distinct possibility, both before the match and at the end of an insipid first half. Instead, Aberdeen ran out comfortable winners, and would have progressed to the fifth round by a wider margin but for some inspired goalkeeping from Marian Kello. Factor in the chances created by Hearts late on, and a final score of 4-1 would not have been too unfair a reflection of the contest.

Afterwards, both managers talked about the anxieties they had had about experienced players who were missing through injury or suspension. Both teams fielded players out of position; both had relatively untried youngsters on from the start.

That analysis of the relative strengths of the sides reminded us of another reason why a close game had been so widely predicted – but then, as first Mark McGhee and then Csaba Laszlo warmed to their themes, they added comments which at least partially explained the disparity between their teams.

McGhee admitted he had been a relieved man when Charlie Mulgrew and Maurice Ross were both passed fit on Saturday morning, and praised the contributions of Ross and Derek Young, both of whom were in unfamiliar roles in the back four. Laszlo applauded the efforts of several of his most experienced players "to keep everything together", then compared himself to Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible.

"You know this film?" the Hearts manager asked. "I try to make it possible."

To an extent, Laszlo deserves sympathy. No-one – with the apparent exception of Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov – would dispute his claim that an experienced striker would be a useful addition to his squad, and his line-up for this fixture certainly was an under-strength one, with Lee Wallace, Jose Goncalves and Ruben Palazuelos absent. Andrew Driver is still on the injured list, as are Calum Elliot and Laryea Kingston, and although the latter has played so infrequently that his absence is now taken as a given, there is no disputing the fact that when fit and at his best he is an asset to Hearts.

So the manager was within his rights to say he has problems, and is only doing his job when he suggests that the club need to recruit up front. However, to liken himself to an action hero, even in jest, was taking things too far, and was unlikely to do anything for the confidence of those young players who he was implying are not really good enough – at least not yet – to be in the team. Fraser Fyvie and Peter Pawlett are hardly veterans, yet, as McGhee pointed out, their midfield industry was a vital element in Aberdeen's victory. Should Laszlo expect any less of Scott Robinson and Gordon Smith, Hearts' rookie strikers?

In any case, in 19-year-old debutant Rocky Visconte, Hearts had an example of how young players can thrive at this level. The Australian midfielder was played out of position at left-back, and as there is no longer a reserve league and he is too old for the under-19s he was also taking part in a competitive game for the first time this season, his previous appearances having been in bounce games. Even so, he was his team's best outfield player in the first half, and later ventured to suggest that "the young players who have come in have done a job". If Laszlo did something similar, and kept his complaints private, those young players might just feel that their manager had faith in them.

And this is Scotland, not Serie A or the Bundesliga: getting into contention for a place in the top four is not a superhuman feat. A little positive morale can go a long way, as Hearts, among other clubs, have shown in previous seasons.

Here, by contrast, they began in a tentative style which suggested they might already have decided a replay was their best bet of progressing. Ian Black came close to opening the scoring early on but just failed to connect with a Suso Santana cross, and later in the first half the same player shot over the bar from 30 yards, but those were the only two moments in which Hearts posed a threat.

Aberdeen were equally lacking in bite before the break, with a Lee Miller header their best effort, but they were soon on top in the second period, and had been threatening to score for some time before Darren Mackie broke the deadlock by finishing from close range after Miller had slid the ball past Kello. As the increasingly confident home team continued to press, a second goal was also only a matter of time, and it came when Miller, ghosting in at the back post, turned in a cross from the right by substitute Chris Maguire.

Christian Nade, who had come on for Smith just after the first goal, had a couple of decent attempts late in the game for Hearts, and Visconte had a shot tipped over the bar by Jamie Langfield, but with a Co-operative Insurance Cup semi-final against St Mirren coming up, the only useful thing they might glean from this defeat is an understanding of how not to compete in a knockout competition.


Darren Mackie (Aberdeen)

The striker opened the scoring, should have had more, and laid on chances for team-mates. Mackie exemplified the hardworking, positive attitude which lay behind the home team's victory.

Taken from the Scotsman

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