Fit-again Aberdeen defender Tommie Hoban says he’s desperate to face Viking

‘We’ve lots of big games and I want to be available for them all’ says classy centre-half

Sunday, 13th September 2020, 10:30 pm
Tommie Hoban of Aberdeen keeps an eye on Kilmarnock's Nicke Kabamba. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS

“One-nil to the Aberdeen!” would be an entirely appropriate chant in the stands at Pittodrie these days if only singing was permitted.

The terrace anthem, originally chorused by Arsenal fans during the 1990s in celebration of their famously redoubtable defence, could be just as fittingly sung in praise of Aberdeen’s parsimonious backline after Derek McInnes’ side posted a third 1-0 victory in five league games.

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As it stands, there is little prospect of this or any other song spilling down the slopes of Pittodrie, despite Saturday’s successful spectator test event. The 300 who attended were later saluted by Aberdeen manager McInnes, who noted how positive they had been. Perhaps this will be one welcome consequence of this long and trying period where fans have been barred from attending games.

Ross McCrorie is all smiles after scoring the only goal against Killie. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS Group

Those who are permitted entry, as a small number were at Pittodrie on Saturday, must obey rules and regulations for the time being including no singing, no shouting and no getting up and down from their seat.

One upshot of this was that clapping became the prime method of communication. Even the most basic pass from A to B was liable to be met by a respectful round of applause. There was no groaning, no rumbles of discontent and definitely no abuse. As McInnes quipped, “they can come back every week!”

That is, of course, the burning question. When will they and others be allowed back in any sort of significant numbers?
Next month at the earliest and even that seems optimistic in the extreme.

In the meantime, only very few can say they were there when the thin red line kept out another decent forward line, including Scotland international Eamonn Brophy and Nicke Kabamba. The defence did receive some help, from Scott Wright notably. Wright caught the eye with his trickery in the other half of the field but was in the right place at the right time to head off the line as Kilmarnock upped the ante towards half-time.

Another significant factor in Aberdeen’s defensive prowess is Tommie Hoban. While Rangers have been rightly lauded after breaking a 114-year record after six consecutive clean sheets at the start of a league season, Aberdeen have been nearly as impressive in this department after conceding just twice in their opening five league games.

A back three of Hoban, continuing his impressive return after a cruciate ligament injury sustained last season, Scott McKenna, playing in the middle of a three, as he has done for Scotland recently, and Andrew Considine looks a very comfortable unit.

With the wingbacks Jonny Hayes and Matty Kennedy able to tuck in, the formation has given licence to Ross McCrorie and Lewis Ferguson, who would identify themselves as deep lying midfielders, to get forward.

This is how Aberdeen sourced their winner after 16 minutes. McCrorie’s decision to push on in support of the forward players paid dividends when Wright was able to cut the ball back to the edge of the box after good play down the left from both he and Marley Watkins.

McCrorie, pictured inset, met the ball perfectly with his left foot and swept a fine effort beyond Danny Rogers, who was making his first return to Pittodrie since leaving Aberdeen during the summer.

Aberdeen did live dangerously at times. However, they are forming a good habit of keeping clean sheets – four in six games, including the European tie against Faroese side NSI Runavik. Hoban, who was left out of the side for that 6-0 win due to concerns he is not yet ready to play twice a week, has assured McInnes he is ready if required again on Thursday, when Aberdeen face Norwegian side Viking Stavanger on a plastic pitch in the Europa League second qualifying round.

“The more games I play, the more I train, the fitter I’ll get and I’ll be able to adapt,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of big games coming up. I want to be available for all of them.

“I’m available for Thursday,” he added. “I don’t know what team the manager will pick as we have a very competitive squad and he could probably pick three or four teams to go out and win the game.”

Not only does Hoban believe Aberdeen have the ability – and defensive nous – to prevail against the Norwegians, he is also adamant they can beat Sporting Lisbon in the next round, with the draw already having taken place.

“The game in Norway will be tough as they are well into their season and obviously the one after it is very exciting,” he said. “If we can win on Thursday then going to Lisbon will be incredible. There is no reason why we can’t get two wins and be one game away from reaching the group stages.”

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