Lewis Ferguson was a standout in Aberdeen’s 1-1 draw with Celtic last night – with clear signs of the effect new boss Stephen Glass is already having on the midfielder’s game.
In addition to the goal he did score – turning home Andy Considine’s header – Ferguson could’ve had two more counters in the first half as the Reds came flying out the box in the hunt for a first Pittodrie victory over the visitors for five years.
The 21-year-old was denied by Hoops keeper Scott Bain on both occasions, first when he directed a header towards the bottom-right corner and then after hitting a low 16-yard shot through a crowd of bodies.
Ferguson’s best chance of another goal was after the break, though, when future Dons player-coach Scott Brown directed Callum Hendry’s pass straight to him. But he couldn’t curve the ball sufficiently as keeper Bain rushed out to him and his effort smacked off the right post.
Even after seeing these chances to put the game out of sight go begging, Ferguson’s all-action showing will have excited the Red Army, and given them a taste of things to come and the direction of travel under the new coaching team.
Following a few months where he has shown a real dip in form for the first time since signing from Hamilton in summer 2018, it is apparent working to make best use of Ferguson’s abilities has been one of Glass’ first priorities since arriving at Cormack Park last week. It was there for all to see in his first Premiership match in charge.
In a nutshell, what did we see from Ferguson last night which was different from the rest of 2021, where the goals have dried up, but more importantly his influence in the middle of the park and on the side has waned? A more potent box-to-box attacking threat, who had clear orders to get himself forward at every opportunity.
Glass – who has promised vibrant, attacking football – intimated in his post-match press conference he had taken the shackles off his young midfield talisman, saying: “Lewis is getting himself in those positions. We had a number of opportunities.
“I know we were limited possession-wise, but we had a real threat when we broke.”
But, perhaps, the clearest sign of how Glass has encouraged Ferguson to get forward and help the attack can be seen in the graphics below.
Compare Ferguson’s heatmaps from former boss Derek McInnes’ final game (a 0-0 draw with Hamilton in March) and interim boss Paul Sheerin’s last match in charge (a 1-0 home win over St Johnstone):
Look at how Ferguson’s concentration of touches has changed – instead of being mostly around halfway (against two teams Aberdeen and the Dons fans would expect to dominate in Accies and Saints), the Scotland Under-21 international was most active in the opposition box last night. This is a significant shift in his positioning, against the dethroned champions no less.
Now, take a look at this table, which averages out Ferguson’s stats for the 15 league games in 2021 before last night and compares them to the Celtic clash yesterday evening:
The numbers reflect the shift fans will have seen with their eyes watching the game, as well as what is shown in the heatmaps above.
Most startling among the stats is Ferguson’s expected goals rating (xG), which measures the quality of his goalscoring chances, for last night was 1.30. His combined (not average per 90 minutes, but combined!) rating for the previous 15 Premiership matches, or 1350 minutes of football, was 1.48.
The different demands being put on Ferguson – and the team generally – by his new gaffer are reflected in the fact his shot count for the game was well above his 90 minute average for 2021, but his pass count was halved.
As is borne out in the numbers, in last night’s game Ferguson was blatantly less tied to the responsibility being the metronome in the middle of the park. Other measures like the amount of times he won possession (four times), his aerial battles and fouls were all down on his average, something which is again tied into the shift.
This was Dean Campbell’s job.
Instead, on what appeared to be Glass’ instructions, Ferguson dedicated himself to supporting Callum Hendry, Florian Kamberi, Niall McGinn and Matty Kennedy – and it gave him a platform on which to impact the game.
This will surely have caught the attention of Aberdeen supporters who watched the enthralling Granite City contest, and it will be interesting to see how Ferguson’s game develops under Glass’ stewardship in the coming weeks and months.