Two tough sides both in the race for Europe produced a stalemate on Saturday afternoon as it ended goalless between Livingston and Aberdeen in West Lothian. Here’s three takeaways as Seán McGill reports from the Tony Macaroni Arena.
Livingston extended their unbeaten run to 13 games on Saturday afternoon, courtesy of a physical 0-0 draw with Aberdeen at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
A tightly contested affair, it was probably the Dons who marginally enjoyed the better of the chances. Auxiliary striker Connor McLennan saw his header crash off the crossbar following a pinpoint delivery from Jonny Hayes on the right with 18 minutes on the clock.
Moments later, it was Hayes who scuppered a huge opportunity to give Derek McInnes’ side the opener. Matty Kennedy won the ball high on the left and had the wherewithal to square it to Hayes in the middle, but the winger clearly didn’t feel comfortable striking on his right, instead rushing the shot and slicing it wide.
The Livi players were adamant they had taken the lead after a Julien Serrano cross fell low to Scott Pittman, who dug out a shot on goal. It was saved by Joe Lewis in between the Aberdeen sticks, but the shouts around Almondvale tried to convince Steven McLean that it had crossed the line. Nobody could really be sure, something that David Martindale admitted post-match.
“I’ve been chirping in the linesman’s ear the full game telling him that it’s in, but I’m not sure,” laughed the Livi boss.
The second half didn’t bring many clear-cut chances until injury time. Tommy Hoban’s cross found substitute Bruce Anderson alone in the centre of the box, but the striker couldn’t quite direct his header on target.
As they did on Wednesday night, Livi searched for a late winner – this time to no avail. Pittman tried his luck from 22-yards, forcing Lewis into a good save down to his right to ensure it would be a point a piece for the sides chasing Europe.
Aberdeen Need a Striker
The press box scratched its collective head when the Aberdeen team line dropped, questioning who would feature through the middle in the absence of Marley Watkins, Curtis Main and Sam Cosgrove – the latter of which is on the brink of sealing a £2m move to Birmingham City.
Filling the void was Conor McLennan, the Scotland under-21 international pulled inside from his usual berth on the wing. He’s always stood out as noticeably taller and stronger than your typical winger, attributes that served him well against the solid defensive duo of Efe Ambrose and Jon Guthrie. However, as his early header off the bar showed, he still lacks the killer instinct that Dons fans would like to see in their number nine.
In order to maintain third spot in the table, and perhaps even begin to push a stuttering Celtic side, bringing in a more potent threat though the middle could prove vital. The difficulty of doing so isn’t lost on the Aberdeen manager however.
“The January window is traditionally so hard to bring number nines in…unless your spending money, like Birmingham going and spending money on Big Sam (Cosgrove), you very rarely get what you want.”
“We’ve run up a few cul-de-sacs. We’ve been chasing yesterday. I spent a lot more time concentrating on that than I was on the game to be honest, because we’re all under that bit of pressure…We need that help.
“It will be a loan, if we can get it.”
Talented Midfields Underutilised
Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Kilmarnock was far from Livi’s best performance on their outstanding run of form. One bright spark though was the Man of the Match display from Jason Holt. The former Hearts and Rangers midfielder ran the show in the middle of the park, dictating the tempo of the play with short, sharp passes. This allowed Marvin Bartley to do what he does best, break up opposition counter attacks in transition and drive forwards on the ball, diverting attention away from the Lions’ more tricky forward players.
In this game, there was no such control in the centre. Instead, the ball was often funnelled wide to Nicky Devlin or Ciaron Brown on the flanks, or fired long in the hope Scott Robinson could put the Dons backline under enough pressure that the second ball could be seized upon by onrushing Livi attackers.
Perhaps the reason Livingston elected not to go through the middle was because of the clear talent of Aberdeen in that area. If that was the thinking, they may have been left surprised at how ineffective the Dons midfield also proved to be.
Lewis Ferguson sat the deepest, but never really took the game by the scruff of the neck, watching his side direct the ball out wide rather than to his feet. Another of Scotland’s budding central midfield talents, it was also a frustrating afternoon for Ross McCrorie. The 22-year-old drove forward impressively when afforded the opportunity – and had a decent chance when slipped through by Ryan Hedges in the second half before firing the ball directly at Max Stryjek – but for large spells he was anonymous on a crisp day in West Lothian.
It may have just been a case of two quality midfields cancelling each other out, but there seemed no real desire to give either the opportunity to outshine the other. This game could have served up a box office clash in the centre of the park, instead it was an insubstantial affair in the middle.
The Race for Third Remains On
A win for Aberdeen this afternoon would have put them 10 points clear of Livi in fifth, not only ending their unbeaten streak, but also most likely ending their hopes of finishing in this season’s solitary Europa League spot.
Conversely, the result still very much benefits the Dons, able to keep the Lions at arm’s length for a while longer. A win for the hosts would have really laid down a marker, putting them within just five points of the Pittodrie side and breathing right down the neck of fourth placed Hibs.
Yet, with Jack Ross’ Hibees picking up a 2-0 win at Tannadice, all three teams know that their form in the final third of the season will determine where they end up come May. It seems inevitable that the steam in Livi’s engine will run out eventually, but until that happens, they remain firmly in the hunt for third spot.
How can either side gain an advantage over the other after this stalemate? They both have the perfect opportunity to increase and narrow their respective gaps, as the sides do it all over again on Wednesday night at Pittodrie.
Will the Dons have a new striker to kill chances? Will Livi continue to freshen up the side from game to game? Will the midfields be given more scope to hurt the opposition? Any one of these factors could swing the balance of favour and give the winning side added impetus as the race for Europe hits the final straight.