Aberdeen assistant manager Allan Russell has revealed how he and manager Stephen Glass got the goal-shy Reds scoring again.
The Dons had netted just seven goals across 16 games in all competitions in a barren 2021 before the new management team arrived at Pittodrie.
In February, under former manager Derek McInnes, the Dons set an unwanted club record for the longest run of games without scoring when losing 1-0 to Celtic.
It was the first time in the club’s proud 118-year history Aberdeen had failed to score in six successive games.
As striker coach with the England squad Russell will be working with world class stars Harry Kane (Tottenham), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) and Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) at this summer’s Euro 2020 finals.
Under his guidance the Reds have rediscovered a goal threat – netting five in the last four games.
Russell was quick to praise the efforts of McInnes and his coaching staff for performing “exceptionally well” over their near eight-year tenure.
Aberdeen are scoring again and Russell states the fundamental reason behind that new attacking edge is getting more players into the opponent’s box.
Yet that is not as simple as it sounds as Russell insists the team structure must be right to allow that to happen.
For Russell it is all about the “intricacies of finding space in limited areas” and key to that is building from the first phase by playing out of defence.
On how the goal threat has returned, Russell said: “I don’t want to decry the efforts made by the coaching staff who were in here as they have done exceptionally well.
“We put more focus first and foremost on getting players into good areas and what that takes.
“It takes a team structure, it’s not just players arriving in the box.
“It is how you press and build the first phase and second phase which affects the final phase of the game.
“That whole process was based on how we can get more bodies in the box and then how we operate in there; the intricacies of finding space in limited areas.”
Russell has been impressed with how the Aberdeen squad have taken, and acted upon, the advice he and Glass have delivered during training sessions at Cormack Park.
He said: “They are an ambitious group, they’re hard-working and intelligent.
“They want to learn and be successful.”
No strikers signed for next season – yet
Russell and Glass may have the Dons firing in front of goal again but their focus during the summer transfer window will be to sign goalscoring centre forwards.
No senior striker is signed for next season as the loan deals for Callum Hendry (St Johnstone), Florian Kamberi (St Gallen) and Fraser Hornby (Stade de Reims) all expire at the end of the campaign.
The squad assessment by the new management team is ongoing but Russell recently confirmed the door has not shut on any player being part of the squad next season, including the three loan strikers.
Hendry is the top performer of the three loan centre forwards having scored three times, including the opener in the 2-1 defeat of Livingston.
Kamberi has netted once whilst Hornby has yet to score although the Scotland U21 international has struggled with a thigh problem.
Aberdeen’s only signed striker Bruce Anderson is currently on loan at Hamilton and his Pittodrie contract expires at the end of this season.
It is understood Glass is keen to retain Anderson.
Battle to finish third in the Premiership still alive
Although the attack is firing again Glass and Russell suffered their first set back in the Dons dugout when losing 3-0 to Dundee United in the Scottish Cup quarter-final at Pittodrie recently.
It was a hammer blow as the tournament is wide open following the exit of Premiership champions Rangers and cup holders Celtic.
However Aberdeen rallied from that set-back to overcome Livingston to secure qualification to the Uefa Conference League second qualifying round.
The defeat of Livingston also kept the fight to finish third in the Premiership alive.
Aberdeen now trail third placed Hibs by just three points and will face the Edinburgh side at Pittodrie on Wednesday in a must win clash.
Russell, 40, said: “We have given ourselves a chance of third and we challenged the players at half-time against Livingston.
“It was important for everyone to go into the last two games with something to play for and we will be doing our utmost to get that third place.
“We want to finish the season positively.”
Should Aberdeen defeat Hibs on Wednesday the fight for third will go down to a showdown with Rangers at Ibrox on the final day of the season on Saturday.
Rangers boast a 100% record in the Premiership at home with 18 wins from 18 and have scored 53 goals whilst conceding four.
Three key signings and more to come
Following the completion of the season Russell will join the England squad at their training base in preparation for the Euro 2020 finals.
The Dons No.2 has been a key component in England manager Gareth Southgate’s coaching staff since being appointed in 2017.
When he does meet up with the England squad he is confident the Dons’ rebuild will already be well on the way in time for the new season.
Glass and Russell have already secured three signings in Motherwell captain and Scotland international centre-back Declan Gallagher, Celtic skipper Scott Brown and keeper Gary Woods.
Oldham Athletic keeper Woods is currently on loan at Pittodrie until the end of the season and has started the last two games as No.1 and club captain Joe Lewis is out with a rib injury.
Woods’ deal with Oldham expires in the summer and he has agreed a pre-contract to join Aberdeen permanently in the summer until 2023.
Russell said: “I think us coming in for this last month or so will bear fruit next season.
“It helps us to assess the environment, to assess the players and to put in our processes and principles, based on the outcome of our assessment, really.
“It will give us a head start going into the summer.”