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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth Ian Orr auth-> Mike Tumilty
7 of 010 Kevin Kyle 46L SPL A

SPL Aberdeen 0 Hearts 1

Oct 18 2010 By Ian Orr

MARK McGHEE insists he is excited about the potential of Aberdeen - but he might not be in charge to see it fulfilled. The defiant Dons boss claims the future is bright. But - after collecting just one point from a possible 18 - his position should be the major concern.

McGhee has been in management for 20 years, long enough to realise football is a results-driven business. And the results from Aberdeen's last six SPL games fall far short of the standard expected.

His assertion that the Pittodrie side's season starts now, with the squad up to full strength, just doesn't stack up. Fatal damage has already been done to their campaign.

When McGhee was appointed, his remit was to deliver a challenge in the SPL, qualify for Europe on a consistent basis and put silverware in the boardroom. But even the most loyal Dons fan would concede these lofty targets are beyond a team languishing joint third-bottom in the league.

The next two games, against Hibs in the SPL and Falkirk in the CIS Cup, could prove crucial to McGhee remaining in the Pittodrie hot-seat.

Defeat in either could convince trigger-happy chairman Stewart Milne that another disastrous season lies ahead and to act before it is too late.

At the same stage a year ago, Aberdeen had lost only one of their first eight league games - and that was to Celtic.

But now they have been defeated five times and those grim statistics will weigh heavily in the boardroom when key decisions must be taken.

The return of the Gothenburg great has proved a dreadful anti-climax - as Aberdeen exited three cups within five months and lost the top six place in the SPL which had been theirs for the previous five years.

Milne still backed his man and sanctioned a major re-building programme in the summer - but he has yet to see any significant improvement. Frustrated supporters have voted with their feet and stayed away in their droves.

Games with Hearts were always the biggest draw for the Dons - apart from those against the Old Firm - yet only 8999 turned up on Saturday, down by more than 2500 on last year's corresponding fixture.

After this latest setback, more will surely desert from the Red Army when Hibs come calling. Aberdeen need gates of around 11,000 to break even so the drift must be halted and the fans convinced to share their manager's belief the future really is bright or their debt will continue to spiral.

Yet after the 1-0 loss to Hearts, McGhee chose to ignore the storm clouds and instead maintain his side had played well.

In fact, match-winner Kevin Kyle could have had a hat-trick in the second half when Aberdeen faded alarmingly.

This was due in part to comeback stars Paul Hartley and Sone Aluko not being fit enough and on-loan striker Andrius Velicka being off the pace from the first minute.

Hearts had been the better side in the first half and created clearer chances. Once Kyle, a target for McGhee during the summer, headed his side ahead within seconds of the re-start, there was only ever going to be one winner. With Marius Zaliukas back to marshall their rearguard, the Jambos easily contained their rivals' feeble efforts.

McGhee said: "I was disappointed.

It was always going to be the kind of game where one goal wins it so I cannot argue.

"It was a poor goal from us because Zander Diamond got caught under the cross. It was disappointing we did not stop the cross coming in or deal with it.

"Before the game I was really excited about having the players back from injury and having Velicka available.

"Our season has not started yet but there is enough left to benefit big time from having them. I am convinced we will improve. I am excited about this team and optimistic they can do very well.

"They all came through it but Andrius looked like he needed games the most.

"He is going to get played but it might take him six or even 10 games to get up to full fitness because he has been out for a long time.

"Kevin Kyle scored the goal but I thought we coped with him fairly well. He is a big lad and difficult to defend against. You must put pressure on him, compete with him, not allow him free headers.

"The first free header he got was the goal. That was disappointing but generally speaking I thought we competed well. We defended pretty well apart from one moment and we lost the game."

It was no coincidence the Jambos kept their first clean sheet since Zaliukas last played against Hamilton two months ago.

The centre-back was in command throughout and didn't have to break sweat to contain Velicka.

With the Lithuanian set to complete his return to Tynecastle this week, the message to owner Vladimir Romanov is quite clear: stop interfering in team matters and let Jim Jefferies do his job.

Hartley would probably have returned as well if Romanov hadn't insisted on an apology from the playmaker for his part in the Riccarton Three - clearing the way for Aberdeen to capture the Scotland midfielder.

The Hearts boss said: "We are almost there with Zaliukas in terms of getting him signed. Everyone has shaken hands on it but we still have to cross the Ts and dot the Is.

"He was a Kaunas player but we wanted to make him a Hearts' player again and the club has worked hard to sort it out.

"I was delighted he was playing for us again, you could see the difference he made at the back.

"Ismael Bouzid was more comfortable having him alongside and he always covers for whoever is at left back.

"Everyone played well and we looked much more solid with a better balance to the side. The return of Zaliukas certainly helped."

Taken from the Daily Record

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