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3 St Johnstone talking points as avoidable mistakes sink containment plan in Aberdeen

Aberdeen striker Luis 'Duk' Lopes beats the static St Johnstone defence to head home the Dons' second at Pittodrie. Image: SNS
Aberdeen striker Luis 'Duk' Lopes beats the static St Johnstone defence to head home the Dons' second at Pittodrie. Image: SNS

St Johnstone slumped in Aberdeen as their run of defeats stretched to four on the spin.

A late Louis ‘Duk’ Lopes double made it a frustrating afternoon for all connected with the Perth club.

And the manner of the Dons striker’s first goal in particular – profiting from the last in a trio of eye-catching errors from club captain Liam Gordon – makes it one from which the fall out will need to be carefully managed.

Gordon’s nightmare showing was not the only talking point from a trip to Pittodrie that must be learned from before it is forgotten.

But the context-smashing impact of the skipper’s final mistake on everything that went before – and everything that followed – made it the central theme of a decidedly rough afternoon.

St Johnstone fans watch on at Aberdeen. Image: SNS

Callum Davidson: A man with a plan

St Johnstone went to Aberdeen with a plan.

It wasn’t the sort of plan that tends to thrill supporters (well, not unless it results in a heart-stopping victory snatched at the death to howls of fury from opposition fans), but it was a plan nonetheless.

Callum Davidson sent his players out at Pittodrie with a blueprint to frustrate an Aberdeen side buoyed by the return of modern day legend Graeme Shinnie and roared on by an enthusiastic support.

Keep it tight in central areas, force the Dons wide through sheer weight of bodies, trust the guys at the back to mop up crosses, hope Stevie May can make the ball stick up top long enough to bring Jamie Murphy and Graeme Carey into the game and, from there, wait for overlaps and support from the flanks.

Sounds simple on paper.

Callum Davidson heads from the St Johnstone team bus into Pittodrie ahead of Saturday’s clash with Aberdeen. Image: SNS

But any such plan has 11 built-in weaknesses in the shape of each of the players within it – and their individual propensity for errors.

Sadly – and frustratingly – so it proved at Pittodrie.

Liam Gordon struggled badly underneath high balls on two separate occasions in the first half and was bailed out on both occasions by goalkeeper Remi Matthews.

There was no saviour for the Perth skipper third time around.

Having first nudged Gordon off balance, Duk left his grounded opponent languishing on the deck to smash home the opener.

When plans have margins as fine as they tend to in football, there is very little room for error.

It turned out Gordon and Saints, after those earlier close calls, had none left.

St Johnstone captain Liam Gordon endured a difficult afternoon in Aberdeen. Image: SNS

Liam Gordon: Should he have stayed or gone?

It is far too simplistic to pin this defeat on Liam Gordon, the skipper who endured the most “off” of off days.

Doing so ignores 99% of what happened in the game beyond his involvement.

Gordon didn’t screw a tempting near-post header wide of the post like Stevie May did 17 minutes in. And he wasn’t even on the pitch when Duk beat Tony Gallacher and Ryan McGowan in the air to put the seal on Aberdeen’s victory.

Those incidents, like the error from Gordon that led to the Dons’ first, occurred in an instant – and there were plenty of others available for someone in a blue jersey to make up for them.

But Gordon’s previous blunders under high balls are impossible to ignore.

The warning signs were there. Two in quick succession. But they were not heeded.

St Johnstone’s Andy Considine hugs former Aberdeen team-mate Graeme Shinnie at full-time. Image: SNS

Should Callum Davidson, having watched both of his skipper’s first half stumbles, have hooked an apparently spooked player at half-time?

With McGowan on the park (a man more than capable of slotting in at centre-half) and Daniel Phillips on the bench (a man more than capable of slotting into McGowan’s vacated midfield role), he certainly had the option.

In retrospect, it looks like he should have.

But as of now, Davidson, Gordon and everybody else can only deal in reality.

Saints’ captain finds himself enduring a difficult moment – and he will be supported by fans, teammates and staff alike as he aims to put it behind him.

Attack and defence: Two sides of same coin

St Johnstone’s plan in Aberdeen was one built on containing the opponent, first and foremost.

Safety first, in short.

Bar the previously discussed individual errors, it functioned reasonably well in that respect.

But there was very little in terms of creative attacking play on display.

The closest Callum Davidson’s men came was when Stevie May flashed a header wide following a neat move first half involving Cammy MacPherson, Drey Wright and Graeme Carey.

The manager felt his side were gaining more control of the game as it went on – and that analysis passed the eye test (it certainly felt that way watching from the press box).

Aberdeen striker Duk slots home the opener against St Johnstone. Image: SNS

But while Aberdeen were shackled, there was little of note in the way of chances for St Johnstone.

For spells earlier in the season, Saints looked like a side mastering a multi-faceted approach to games.

They were miserly in defence but lively up top.

By combining defensive solidity with the ability to transition to attack quickly, opponents have to temper their own attacking instincts to protect against a quick break.

As recently as against Hearts, Saints looked truly dangerous going forward.

But against Dundee United – and now Aberdeen – there has been little to cheer up top.

With in-form Livingston next up at McDiarmid Park, a remedy is essential.