Aberdeen have failed to cash in their Premiership ‘golden ticket’ and may now have to pay the cost.
This season the Dons landed a gilt-edged opportunity to build winning momentum when avoiding last season’s top three sides in their opening run of fixtures.
To dodge Rangers, Celtic and Hibs in that opening salvo offered a window for a squad rebuilt in the summer to gel, find their rhythm – and rack up points.
It hasn’t happened and now the Dons are careering towards a make-or-break month with fixtures against the Old Firm, the two Edinburgh clubs and Dundee.
In their opening seven fixtures to date, Aberdeen faced five teams who finished in the bottom six last season and newly-promoted Hearts.
It offered the chance for Aberdeen to be make a clear statement by pushing at the top end of the table – instead they have dropped into the bottom six wasteland.
From that opening run, 13 to 15 points would have been acceptable, with anything above a strong start.
Anything below was unacceptable. To only take eight, with two points from the last possible 15, is woeful underperformance.
The effort being put in by Aberdeen cannot be doubted. However, graft is the absolute minimum requirement for a team with aspirations and expectations of success.
Supporters want, and will demand, more goals, clean sheets and – more importantly – more wins to be pushing up near the top of the Premiership table.
That is not happening at the moment – but that’s not to say it won’t.
The worst run of form since 2010 – no wins in eight and no clean sheets in 11 – makes for brutal, depressing reading for an Aberdeen fan.
However, the slump in form is far from terminal as there are goal-scorers in the team, the creativity of Ryan Hedges is now back after a six-game injury absence, there is experience in the midfield and Scotland international centre-backs.
Surely the sum of those parts will combine to revive the ailing form.
Up 2-1 at St Mirren at the weekend, the Dons looked on course to secure victory until the 51st minute dismissal of Teddy Jenks was the catalyst for a collapse and 3-2 loss.
Aberdeen boss Stephen Glass recently admitted he expected some bumps in the road following the summer rebuild.
No-one expected the bumps to be so big, so many and for the road to be so long.
However, the season can be saved.
The catalyst for that could come against a struggling and vulnerable Celtic at Pittodrie on Sunday.
Under manager Ange Postecoglou, the Hoops have suffered their worst start to a league season in 23 years and have not won away domestically for seven months.
Celtic have suffered six losses from seven on the road in all competitions this season.
They have not looked so beatable since the days of Ronny Deila.
If Aberdeen can exploit that it would elevate them above Celtic and into the top six – and could be the launchpad for a successful October.
Currently the momentum is negative going into a crucial run of games and if the Dons do not turn it around they could find themselves cut adrift from the European spot pace-setters by November. Then it could be a winter of discontent.
Despite the dip in form, the Dons are only five points behind Hearts and Hibs in second– with games against both in October.
By the same token they are only five points ahead of bottom club Dundee, who the Dons also play next month.
It could go one of two ways in October. It could be the month Aberdeen reignite the season or it could be the anchor that drags them further down.
It is up to Aberdeen.
Keeper Lewis left exposed by defence
There is no position as exposed and lonely as the goalkeeper and Joe Lewis is discovering that this season.
Remember the classic early sixties film ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ based on the Allan Sillitoe’s short story?
Footage from the Dons 3-2 loss at St Mirren should be named ‘The Loneliness of the Premiership Keeper’.
The 33-year-old was painted as the main perpetrator in conceding the third goal in the 3-2 loss to St Mirren.
However, what about the culpability of the defenders, and the rest of the team, that left Lewis exposed for two of the goals at St Mirren?
GOAL! St Mirren 1-0 Aberdeen (Ronan, 14)
🗣 "There's a huge slice of luck on the finish!"
📺 Watch live on Sky Sports Football pic.twitter.com/illWBY2ri7
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) September 26, 2021
Granted Lewis’ kick out for the first was poor, but it almost reached the half-way line.
Surely an Aberdeen player in midfield should have controlled it and retained possession.
Instead it was recycled rapidly by St Mirren, who had it back in the box within seconds, and there was no real cover as the Reds defence were caught out.
Centre-back David Bates stretched out to block, but all he did was get a slight deflection to the shot, which sent it bouncing on the turf and beyond Lewis.
Had there not been that deflection, I have no doubt Lewis would have saved it.
For that winning third goal, Bates was out-muscled by Curtis Main and fell to the deck.
When he got up, he failed to close down Main, who was left with a free run at goal – and Lewis.
GOAL! St Mirren 3-2 Aberdeen (Main, 61)
𝐖𝐇𝐀𝐓 𝐀 𝐆𝐀𝐌𝐄! 💥
🗣 "It's another amazing turnaround! Extraordinary!"
📺 Watch live on Sky Sports Football pic.twitter.com/Hlk8w6nQGQ
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) September 26, 2021
Lewis came out and missed the ball, but he should never have been left exposed for a 50-50 with a striker going for a header in the centre of goal.
Lewis is too good a keeper and too experienced to be sacrificed and dropped to the bench after no clean sheets in 11 games.
To have a chance of registering a shut-out he needs more protection from the defence.
Can Anthony Joshua win Usyk rematch?
Outclassed, out-boxed and out-thought by Oleksandr Usyk in London, Anthony Joshua will take the rematch clause with the undefeated Ukranian.
However, Joshua was so comprehensively beaten in every department he will have to go back to the drawing board and make fundamental changes to have any chance of revenge.
Usyk is a sublime fighter and Joshua dropping weight to fight a former cruiserweight took away the advantage of his physicality and power.
Even if Joshua bulks up for the rematch, it will not be enough to overcome Usyk.
🎬 𝙃𝙄𝙂𝙃𝙇𝙄𝙂𝙃𝙏𝙎 🎬
Usyk ends Joshua's reign as champion 🤯 pic.twitter.com/T3Almn2i2l
— Sky Sports Boxing (@SkySportsBoxing) September 26, 2021
Usyk’s win has put an all-British match-up between Joshua and Tyson Fury further away than ever.
But a fight between Usyk and Fury would be sensational. Two phenomenal boxers operating at such a high technical level.