• Ruaraidh Britton

All Change: McInnes exit sets up tense race for Europe

It was a bittersweet farewell for Aberdeen fans last night, as Derek McInnes’ eight year tenure in charge of the club came to an end last night. After one of the most promising eras in the club’s recent history, a painful run of only two wins in their last ten and even more brutal goal drought that saw them score once in those ten fixtures, the Dons had no choice but to pull the trigger.

Multiple Scottish Cup finals, four second place league finishes, and even a Scottish League Cup win in 2014, McInnes had the potential to become an Aberdeen great, and it can be argued that his time in charge was one of the best at the club in recent decades. But ultimately the trust with fans had gone, and the trust of the board had evaporated after one final roll of the dice in the transfer market had let him down. His desperate infection of attacking players failed to turn the tide, and change was desperately needed.

The season is done in the eye of many; Rangers have sealed the title with six games to spare and now the longest serving manager in the league Steven Gerrard stands proud looking at the work he has done. To those south of the border, there’s nothing left in this league, but quite frankly that’s an insult to the other teams left. Celtic can be pretty sure of a second place finish, unless an even worse collapse than the one we’ve already seen sinks the club to new depths, but the race for top four is closer than the table shows.

Hibernian hold the best cards in the pack for third despite questionable form, with a three point lead over Aberdeen and a game in hand away at Ross County giving them the better chance of finishing third. Aberdeen have a trip to Dundee United before the top six split to get through, and if results go their way they could sort out the issue of a three point gap. Livingston have fallen off after a seriously impressive unbeaten run during the winter, but they sit nine points behind also with a game in hand, and as much as Aberdeen fans may want to breathe a sigh of relief, they know there are enough games left for things to go really wrong in their bid to obtain a place in the Europa League qualifiers this summer.

To miss out on Europa League would be fatal for the club. If they want to stand a chance of bringing in a new manager who could challenge the duopoly of Celtic and Rangers, then they need to have Thursday nights for the incoming manager to look forward to. Already however we have seen the name Craig Levein in the bookies list of odds, and the whole of Scotland knows that would be the wrong answer. He has been the butt of many jokes in Scottish football management, and Aberdeen should know better than the car crash that was Hearts’ 2019-20 season when Levein was last in work.

Enzo Maresca is an intriguing prospect that both Celtic and Aberdeen have heard in the whispers in the wind. His talent is obviously undeniable, but it seems a brash move to go for someone with little understanding of the game in Scotland for Aberdeen. I believe his qualities have to be looked at more than the likes of Stephen Robinson and Neil Lennon however, who are both also names doing the rounds. Robinson would definitely be worth keeping in mind, but his end to his Motherwell tenure makes the prospect rather eye-watering. Lennon however should easily be ruled out, because if any manager needs a lengthy break, it has to be Neil.

The outcome Aberdeen need is pretty clear. Seal a European spot in the coming weeks, and hope that interim gaffer Paul Sheerin and his right hand men Barry Robson and Neil Simpson can see the job through with the talent they have. Whoever imports this squad however isn’t exactly in a bad place. Florian Kamberi and Fraser Hornby were great imports during the transfer window, but five games without a goal is tricky reading for Reds fans, and getting them scoring is going to be more than enough to fix the current crisis. Maintaining as many key names in summer will also now be ever more vital, and after the departure of Sam Cosgrove to Birmingham City, any more high-profile exits would be another wound too many for fans this season. If they want to break Rangers’ chokehold on Scotland and challenge the duopoly, this has to be the time they get it right, or face falling further into the shadows.

Written by Ruaraidh Britton