The determination shown by Aberdeen to overcome Livingston in the Scottish Cup will have been the most pleasing element for new boss Stephen Glass on his dugout debut.
In Glass’ first game in charge, his Dons showed grit and character to eventually prevail in a penalty shoot-out, despite twice going behind at Pittodrie.
Yes, fans want to see the Reds playing sparkling football for 90 minutes and dispatching their opponents comfortably, but at this stage of the campaign and in a cup tie the most important thing is to get through by hook or by crook.
Despite where Aberdeen have been this season, with results drying up due to a lack of goals, a change of manager and a prolonged process to actually get Glass over from the United States and working with the players, they now have a very winnable cup quarter-final to look forward to on Sunday against Dundee United.
It must have been really satisfying for Glass to get by stubborn opponents in Livingston, who hounded and harried the Dons in the first half before going ahead via Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. This was after the home side had suffered the blow of losing captain and goalkeeper Joe Lewis to a rib injury.
After Niall McGinn had hauled Aberdeen level, referee Colin Steven then awarded Livi a baffling penalty at the start of extra-time, which Emmanuel-Thomas won and scored.
But the Reds again showed their character in the face of adversity to immediately hit back through Florian Kamberi, and showed calmness and composure to get the job done on penalties and complete a pleasing opener for Glass.
Mixing up play got Aberdeen up park and turned tables on Livi
I don’t think the first half on Saturday was particularly good, but I thought Aberdeen struggled again with the way Livingston played and set up.
The Lions were quick out the blocks with their high press and the Dons couldn’t cope before half-time.
After the break though, Aberdeen were the better team and deserved to take the tie on balance.
They got their two full-backs higher up the park and, instead of being dominated by the opposition, they started to dominate Livingston.
The Dons first equaliser came from left-back Jonny Hayes marauding forward and teeing up old partner-in-crime McGinn to slam it into the back of the net, so it clearly made a big difference.
I think what also helped Aberdeen was mixing their play up a bit, as building it up from the back all the time is all well and good, but – if you’re getting mowed down by the opposition and pressurised into mistakes – it’s difficult.
There seemed to be a better balance in the second half between this kind of build-up and playing it long, which made the game bigger and more open.
Once this was the case, Aberdeen’s passing game worked better and Lewis Ferguson in central midfield was able to get forward and support the attackers.
Instead of being a game where Aberdeen were trying to play out, but just couldn’t find a rhythm, the full-backs and midfield were higher up the park and started to win their individuals battles.
A clear example is Hayes and Livi forward Emmanuel-Thomas. In the first half, Hayes was on the back-foot against the big attacker, but it all turned round after the break.
Livingston’s approach to the game in the early stages ended up helping the Reds, ultimately, with David Martindale’s side running on empty by the end of the contest, having put so much into their pressing and forcing the pace of the game early on.
They were running on empty in extra-time I felt and I would say Aberdeen dictated the play through the second half and through the extra half an hour.
Of course, despite Aberdeen being the better side after the interval, referee Steven could have cost them with his decision to award Livingston a penalty in the closing stages.
There was a slight bit of contact between Emmanuel-Thomas and Dean Campbell in the Reds’ area, but nowhere near enough for the visiting player to go down.
At the time I was dumbfounded, and, having seen it back, I’m none the wiser.
It could’ve been a huge blow to Aberdeen, but fortunately they managed to recover from it.
Florian Kamberi’s best position may be out wide
I was pleased, after this incident, Florian Kamberi was able to finally break his scoring duck for the Dons after arriving on loan from St Gallen, and his showing after coming on was promising.
The Albanian has been disappointing on his recent appearances, but in his first few games showed he does have ability.
When he was substituted on against Livi he made a big difference.
Kamberi is a touch player and, out on the left-hand side, it gave him a bit more freedom and he seemed to enjoy not being the centre-forward, but instead being able to link play – something he had already shown he was suited to – as well as being given license to roam and move about the pitch.
He’s clearly and intelligent player, who we haven’t seen the best of, and this secondary attacker role off the main forward seemed to suit him more and allow him to better express himself.
Fans will want taste of new approach against Celtic and Rangers
Before they meet Dundee United at the weekend, Aberdeen host Celtic at Pittodrie tomorrow in the Premiership – another interesting examination of the new manager.
After his debut win, I predict Glass will try to give the Red Army the more aggressive, front-foot performance they’ve been craving against the Glasgow two.
He’s said in his interviews so far, he wants to change Aberdeen’s approach and bring back the good times to the club by playing open and attractive football.
Let’s hope he can achieve this over his tenure.
As far as Wednesday goes, Celtic aren’t the unbeatable side of a few years ago. They have flaws, went out of the Scottish Cup to rivals Rangers at the weekend and they still have the uncertainty over who will be their manager for next season – whereas Aberdeen maybe now have a bit more certainty about where they’re heading.
It might not go perfectly for the Dons tomorrow, but I think the fans will be happy if they get a taste of how things might go in these clashes in the future.
Niall McGinn showed he can still bring qualities to bear for Aberdeen
Niall McGinn showed on Saturday he still has the ability to create chances and take opportunities for Aberdeen.
The 33-year-old appears to have found some attacking form, which has been sadly lacking across the Reds ranks this term.
Before the weekend, McGinn had scored more goals for Northern Ireland (two) in 2020/21 than he had for the Dons (one – against St Mirren in November’s League Cup loss).
The winger is out of contract in the summer, but – given he also netted the first Aberdeen counter of the Derek McInnes era – he obviously likes to impress new managers and, if he continues to be influential before the end of the campaign, he could convince Stephen Glass to give him a new deal.
Over the course of the season, there have been times where you’ve found yourself wondering how much was left in the tank for 2014 League Cup-winning veteran Niall, because, under McInnes, he wasn’t getting starts or opportunities to play as regularly.
When he did get on the park, he tended to be substituted as well.
But the last couple of months ago, he appears to have found a new vigour and purpose.
There were signs before Glass’ first game on Saturday, but the arrival of the new boss will have given everyone a lift and a point to prove.
At the weekend, McGinn – with his goal and then assist for Florian Kamberi – showed he can still be a key figure in this Aberdeen team.