Bright new era for Aberdeen?

McGhee and Hartley to lead Dons success

August 19, 2010
By Andy Moir

Pittodrie stadium has long been considered an unforgiving place, with many managers suffering ill-fated spells at the helm, but could this finally be the dawn of a new era?

Mark McGhee was appointed Aberdeen boss in June 2009
GettyImagesMark McGhee was appointed Aberdeen boss in June 2009

There's little hiding place in the Granite City - just ask the likes of Ebbe Skovdahl and Steve Paterson, two of the many characters to perish in Aberdeen and not just because of the bitter winds that sweep off the North Sea.

Many other aspiring bosses have struggled to shine in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson that still looms large almost a quarter of a century since his departure.

Current incumbent Mark McGhee has also had to cope with the added pressures of being a former Fergie fledgling. He has also faced a battle to win public acceptance as he replaced Jimmy Calderwood, who many regarded as one of the more successful figures to have succeeded the Govan genius.

McGhee's first season in charge of the club he served with such distinction as a player was one of mixed fortunes. Granted, he helped teen stars Fraser Fyvie and Peter Pawlett arrive on the scene, providing the long-suffering fans with a degree of light relief as they were forced to stare down the league table instead of dreaming about climbing up it.

But now 12 months on there seems to be light at the end of what was once a very dark tunnel thanks in no small part to the shining beacon provided by new captain Paul Hartley. McGhee may have found it hard to relate to some of the players he inherited from Calderwood but now he's got his own troops in place with his skipper a real ally on the pitch.

And if Carlsberg did debuts they could hardly have scripted a better one than Hartley's as he scored three penalty kicks in a convincing 4-0 rout over Hamilton that marked Aberdeen's first opening day win in 16 years.

The red renaissance might only be 90 minutes old and the self-destruct button that has so often dragged the Dons down could be triggered at any time. However, with their next fixture away to St Johnstone on Saturday, one of Hartley's former clubs, they've got a realistic chance of maintaining their place at the top of the SPL tree.

Hartley's right-hand man, vice-captain Zander Diamond, is already convinced his new mentor is having a major influence despite only signing on three weeks ago. Diamond, also a scorer in the Hamilton victory, has never been one to shirk a challenge and has welcomed the arrival of a like-minded leader at the club.

"Paul has already been a huge influence on the team. All the young players and senior ones have already taken to him," said Zander. "He is a great leader and does a lot of talking on the pitch. Ask the back four or the midfield and they will tell you he's made a huge difference. You see the influence he has had with us already and I am sure he still has that within the Scotland camp.

Paul Hartley joined Aberdeen from Bristol City
GettyImagesPaul Hartley joined Aberdeen from Bristol City

"It was clear we needed a big signing this summer and thankfully the club have been able to pull out all the stops to land Paul. Right from the first training session everyone could see his class and he's already setting incredibly high standards which we can all learn from."

Diamond reckons Aberdeen will have taken real confidence from their opening blitz and can travel south to Perth on a high.

He added: "There was a lot of talk that Hamilton were going to come up here and turn us over again, but we have now put that to bed. This year we have a team of players shouting and wanting the ball. Last year people said that wasn't the case. However, we are not going to get too carried away, we've got an important one to prepare for against St Johnstone this weekend.

"We're going into that match top of the league which creates a different type of pressure but I don't see any reason why we can't go there and win the match. It's never an easy fixture away at St Johnstone so while we've gained a lot of confidence from the Hamilton win we know this weekend will be a tough encounter."

Hartley hasn't just been bossing his new colleagues on the pitch, he's also been laying down the law off it. The 33-year-old has introduced several new policies like fines for being late and penalties for using mobile phones on a match day. Maybe, just maybe, the Scotland international has what it takes to bridge the gap between the management and players to help breathe new life into Pittodrie once more.