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Aberdeen: Will manager Barry Robson avoid axe as side slump to second bottom?

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Aberdeen: Will manager Barry Robson avoid axe as side slump to second bottom?

‘Aberdeen form makes cup win a tough argument’

“It’s a big club, Aberdeen, and it’s not acceptable to be second bottom.”

Most, including current manager Barry Robson, would agree with Dons legend Willie Miller’s verdict.

What their lowly position in the Scottish Premiership means for Robson’s future after Wednesday’s latest disappointment at home to Kilmarnock is more open to debate.

Miller and most of his fellow Sporstound pundits believe he will “surely” at least be given a chance to redeem himself in this month’s Viaplay Cup final. Many fans are less forgiving.

With the club’s annual meeting looming large on Monday, we look at Robson’s chances of not only surviving that likely grilling but the rest of the season.

Extent of the crisis

This is not just about nostalgia for the halcyon days of Alex Ferguson’s streak of silverware, domestically and in Europe, during the 1980s.

Wednesday’s late winner at Pittodrie was all the more poignant as it came from a side managed by the man who led the Dons to four second-place finishes in a row, albeit while Rangers were absent from the top flight.

Derek McInnes’ win rate with Aberdeen was 53%. Under Robson, it is 38%.

That’s an improvement on the two managers in between – they slumped to 31% under Stephen Glass and Jim Goodwin. However, Robson’s percentage is boosted by the good end to last season that took Aberdeen up to third in the table and persuaded the board to hand their interim boss a two-year contract in May.

Seven months on, despite significant investment in the squad, suddenly the spectre of losing the proud boast of never having been relegated from Scotland’s top flight is hanging heavily over the north-east club.

Especially as Wednesday’s defeat against a Kilmarnock side who had gone winless in their seven previous Premiership trips away from Rugby Park.

Statistics are damning

Although Robson has been at pains not to use it as “an excuse”, there is no doubt competing in Europe has had a bearing on Aberdeen’s domestic form.

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A disappointing defeat by Hacken in Europa League qualifying has been followed by some praised performances in the Conference League group stage, while there was the Premiership high of a 3-1 win away to Rangers and progress to meet the same opposition in the forthcoming League Cup final.

However, the Dons were thumped 6-0 at reigning champions Celtic, while those European performances have only garnered two draws and a failure to progress to the knockout stage.

Robson had pointed to a gruelling schedule of playing seven of their previous eight games away from home, but his hope that a run of four home matches along with the Hampden final would ease the pressure were dashed at the first hurdle.

Indeed, they have a measly one home win in nine this season and, overall, are without a victory in six outings – and have only two wins in 12.

‘Good players should be doing better’

Robson, who stepped up from the club’s Under-18s set-up to be caretaker last term, is facing a crucial, and potentially exhausting, week in his first managerial job.

Hearts visit on Saturday, Eintracht Frankfurt are next up on Thursday in a dead European rubber, then Aberdeen head to Hampden four days later.

Robson rightly suggests “it’s probably both boxes are killing us”, although former Aberdeen boss Miller disputes the current manager’s claim they are “dominating games” despite their poor run.

Last season, Duk and Bojan Miovski were being hailed as a deadly strikeforce and the latter is even now being touted as a possible transfer target for the Old Firm.

However, this term, the Dons are the fourth lowest scorers with 15 goals in the Premiership and have failed to net in eight of their 14 games.

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They have scored one more goal than Hearts, but Saturday’s visitors have risen to third place on the back of being equally measly at the back while the Dons have the third most goals conceded (24) after Motherwell and Hibernian.

“They’ve got a good squad,” said Miller. “They should be doing better. We know that sometimes you can have good players but not a good team and Aberdeen are looking like that just now.”

Yet Robson has shown a reluctance to dip deep into that squad and, despite European demands, has only used 21 players this season – the equal lowest in the league along with St Mirren.

‘He’s got to get the final, surely?’

‘There’s no excuse, we have to pick up points’ – Robson

Robson remains confident he can revive Aberdeen’s season, pointing out that he has “been in a lot of difficult situations throughout my career”.

However, Miller detected that the 45-year-old “sounded very down there. Post-match interviews are usually very upbeat from Barry irrespective of the performance”.

“He’s going to come under pressure,” he said. “He’s got to get himself into the top six – if he gets the time to do that.

“The League Cup final is huge. In fact, Saturday is huge. Hearts are coming calling and you’ve got to put in a performance to get a bit of confidence going into that cup final. It’s not looking good for him.

“I think he’ll get the cup final. He’s got to get the final, surely? If he wins it, it buys him time.”

Former Scotland midfielder Michael Stewart thinks “the turn of the year” will be crucial for Robson.

“There’s a lot of out-of-work managers who will be looking at that squad and saying I’d love to have my hands on that,” he said.

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James McFadden believes the matches against Hearts and Rangers are “massive” for Robson as he looks to prevent chairman Dave Cormack axing a third manager within two years.

“I think all that would be forgiven if they get a result against Hearts and, more importantly, if they win the League Cup,” the former Scotland striker said. “But their form and performance level would make that a tough argument.”

What do the fans say?

Kenny: The current situation is symptomatic of a bigger problem at the club – lack of leadership and direction from the top. Dave Cormack’s tenure as chairman will be remembered for poor managerial appointments and refusal to appoint a competent director of football. Sort it out or step aside.

Jim: I like Barry Robson, but his time is getting shorter by the day.

Robert: Robson and Steve Agnew have been stubborn in their team selection and naive in their tactics. It’s clearly not worked and, in a results industry, they need to go. We need an experienced manager.

Gary: I like Robson, he is a fantastic coach and, if sacked the club, lose a great man. Cormack has made a lot of wrong decisions since coming in.

Michael: For the Dons to keep Robson for the second half of the season would be a relegation gamble they cannot take.

Fred: Robson seems to be unable to change things so, with regret, his tenure must be in doubt.

Pete: Give him until the end of January and if there’s no improvement then it’s time for the exit for him. The long ball doesn’t work.

Paul: I was impressed by him last season, but Robson has to go and we need a bigger name in as new manager. I suspect that it won’t be before the League Cup final, though, as that really would ruin any chance of winning.

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