On current form, Aberdeen can forget about overhauling Celtic to finish second in the Premiership.
This 2-0 defeat to Livingston means the Dons have won just twice in nine league games, with four draws and three defeats, meaning they haven’t capitalised on the Hoops’ poor form.
An error from Joe Lewis and poor marking gifted the Lions two goals and, while sloppiness at the back was the problem last night, scoring goals continues to be an issue for the Reds.
Aberdeen have now scored just six goals in their last nine matches, having failed to score in five of those fixtures.
Across the last 16 outings in all competitions, the Reds had found only found the net 15 times.
That’s a run which needs to change for the Dons if they are even to secure European qualification and a top-three finish.
Aberdeen have a totally different strikeforce for the second half of the campaign compared with the first, with Fraser Hornby and Callum Hendry signed on transfer deadline day and Florian Kamberi awaiting a work permit.
But the goal problem won’t simply be solved by signing strikers – they also need chances created for them.
On some occasions this season – such as Saturday’s draw at Livingston – opportunities have been created, but not taken.
That couldn’t be said last night.
Hornby was pitched in to start, but had no chances to speak of. In the first period the Scotland Under-21 record scorer was an isolated figure, feeding off long hopeful balls forward.
In the second half Hornby – with Hendry playing up alongside him – did get more service, but still opportunities were thin on the ground.
Opta stats show he had just one shot in the game, which was blocked, and just three touches inside the penalty area as shown below.
Hendy for his part showed some promising touches to link the play and tried to work the channels, but no chances fell for him either, with much of his involvement outside the penalty area as the heatmap below shows, as the Dons again struggled to prise open a disciplined and organised defence.
Aberdeen made the worst possible start falling behind in the seventh minute with captain Lewis at fault.
The move started with Greg Leigh sloppily conceding possession inside the Dons’ half, which led to Jason Holt eventually feeding Julien Serrano on the left flank.
Serrano’s cross to the near post looked relatively straightforward for Lewis to deal with, but the captain fumbled the ball into the net.
Six minutes after falling behind Aberdeen lost one of their main creative forces, with Ryan Hedges forced off with a suspected shoulder problem after landing awkwardly in the early stages.
Despite treatment, the Welsh international was unable to continue and Matty Kennedy replaced him.
Just after the quarter hour mark, Livi doubled their lead. The Lions kept the pressure up following a corner and, when Josh Mullin crossed from the right side Nicky Devlin, was given the freedom of the penalty area to plant a header beyond Lewis.
After racing into a two-goal lead, Livingston were in control of the game and they made it difficult for Aberdeen by being disciplined within their shape, which meant the Dons found it difficult to break them down.
The visitors were also a threat on the counter-attack with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas sending a low strike narrowly wide following on promising raid forward.
Aberdeen’s first moment of threat came just before the half hour mark when Ash Taylor’s header from a Lewis Ferguson free-kick was easily gathered by goalkeeper Max Stryjek.
The Dons suffered another injury before half-time, with Taylor having to be replaced by Dean Campbell and Connor McLennan was also withdrawn and Hendry handed his debut.
These changes led to a change of shape to 3-5-2 in a bid to change the momentum of the encounter.
Eight minutes into the second period, Aberdeen were close to pulling a goal back with Ferguson’s snapshot from inside the area deflecting onto the underside of the bar and bouncing down, but even after examining video replays it was hard to say for definite whether or not the ball had crossed the line.
Ferguson tested Stryjek soon after with a drive from 20 yards.
Aberdeen continued to pen Livingston in, but – for all the crosses slung into the box – a comeback never looked likely. Opta stats show that Aberdeen put in 23 crosses from open and dead ball situations and 66% of possesion, but, across the 90 minutes, Stryjek was only required to make three saves.
The visitors could have added another with Scott Pittman’s low effort hitting the left post in the closing stages.
Tactics and talking points
The Dons went with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Ryan Hedges, Connor McLennan and Jonny Hayes playing behind striker Fraser Hornby.
Lewis Ferguson and Ross McCrorie were the midfield anchors, with Tommie Hoban and Greg Leigh tasked with getting forward from the full-back positions.
Livingston went for a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Derek McInnes made one change to the side which drew 0-0 with Livingston at Almondvale on Saturday.
New signing Fraser Hornby was drafted in to start up front, with Matty Kennedy dropping to the bench.
Another deadline recruit – Callum Hendry from St Johnstone – also started on the bench.
Livi’s late changes
Visitors Livingston were forced into a late change just before kick-off.
2⃣| Two further changes to the team ahead of kick-off.
Jon Guthrie & Craig Sibbald now miss out with injury as Aaron Taylor-Sinclair steps in to the starting line-up meaning we'll only have 7 substitutes on the bench.
Nicky Devlin now captains the side for this one. #LFCLive
— Livingston FC (@LiviFCOfficial) February 2, 2021
Captain Jon Guthrie was forced out of the side because of injury, with Aaron Taylor-Sinclair taking his place.
Sub Craig Sibbald was also removed from the bench due to a problem suffered in the warm-up.
In recent games, Aberdeen’s defence has been one part of the team functioning well.
Following the 4-1 defeat to Ross County last month, the Dons kept three clean sheets, but they reverted to shipping easy goals against Livingston with the first an individual mistake and dire marking for the second.
Aberdeen dropped to fourth in the Premiership table with this loss as a result of Hibs winning at St Mirren.
Livingston are also now in the fight for a top–four place with their 14-game unbeaten run taking them within five points of the Dons.