It is the last weekend of the SPL season, as we embark on visiting ground forty one, which is Aberdeen’s Pittodrie Stadium. Today’s opposition are Hearts, who we have now seen so many times in the last few weeks, I feel like a diehard Jambo!
I was last here for a game in March 1998, long before the kids were born and recall it for the most obscure of reasons! I had been out drinking the night before, I was extremely rough in every way, having had only one hour’s sleep and nothing to eat for hours. During the game, I made a shameful, three visits to the food kiosk and amassed a ridiculous four pies, having hit ‘the munchies’! They were the days!
As we have neared the end of our ‘Grounds Tour’, one thing I was looking forward to, as we headed into summer, was better weather! Someone up there was having a laugh, as we endured possibly the wettest day of the year in the Granite City! Despite the conditions, we still made good progress up north, avoiding the vast amount of speed cameras, before hitting the city centre traffic, which was at an absolute standstill.
I had intended to meet an old friend who now lives in Aberdeen before the game, but due to the latter hold ups, we had to end up parking the car and walked briskly to the ticket office. As it was the last game of the season, the Dons had announced through the week, that the admission prices for this game would be £5 for adults and £1 concessions.
As we approached the ticket office, I got a programme which looked to be as drenched as the guy selling it! It is as thick as a government report, but great value and must be made with an incredible quality of paper, as it has no tide marks or signs of being wet! The tickets we had, were for the Richard Donald Stand, behind the goal. For the first half we sat upstairs and went to the lower tier for the second.
There has been some talk in recent years about Aberdeen relocating to a new stadium in a different area, but there has been no recent update to this. The club claim to have had the first all seated stadium in Scotland, a feat challenged by the now defunct Clydebank FC who put benches in their terraces to achieve this.
The Dons have had a mixed start to life under new Manager, Derek McInnes. For this game, he gave an opportunity to a handful of young, fringe players. The team were also wearing their new home kit, which is reminisce of the old Liverpool, Adidas kit of the mid 1990s, with the big v-neck collar.
Jamie Langfield was in goals, with Clark Robertson and Joe Shaughnessy being given a start in defence. Nicky Low was deployed in the centre of midfield, with Cammy Smith playing further forward. They were ably assisted by the more senior players, Mark Reynolds, Johnny Hayes, Niall McGinn and Gavin Rae, who was making his last appearance in a red shirt.
For Hearts, their Manager, Gary Locke stuck with a familiar looking side, which included, Jamie MacDonald in goals, Kevin McHattie, Jamie Hamill, Ryan Stevenson, Jason Holt and Michael Ngoo. It was likely to be the last game in a Hearts jersey for Andy Webster and substitutes, John Sutton and Marius Zaliukas, who both came on for late cameos.
By the time we got in and seated, the game had already kicked off. The weather clearly had a detrimental effect on the attendance and although there was nothing to play for, Hearts brought a good travelling support, who were vocal throughout.
The game started at a pretty frantic pace, with Aberdeen having a bulk of the early possession. They had the first reasonable efforts on goal, when McGinn put a shot wide of the left hand post, before MacDonald easily claimed an effort from Rae.
Hearts themselves forced a couple of corners and youngster, Dale Carrick called Jamie Langfield into action, with a shot from the edge of the box. The first clear cut chance of the game fell to Aberdeen and the conditions helped play a part. A long ball from Reynolds in the Dons half, was played up to Josh Magennis, who outmuscled Webster, before lifting the ball over the advancing MacDonald in goal. The big striker looked favourite to then tap the ball into the net from six yards, but Dylan McGowan managed to slide in and clear the ball to safety.
Cammy Smith was putting in a shift for the Dons in attack and came close, when his flicked header from a Shaughnessy cross on the right, looped just over the bar. Then, from a Hearts counter attack, Taouil threaded a pass through the left channel for Holt. He crossed into the box, but it deflected off Isaac Osborne and was goal bound, had Langfield not managed to parry for a corner.
Just after a quarter of an hour, a lovely sweeping move which started from an Osborne clearance, was flicked on by Smith in the centre circle for Hayes, wide on the right. His low cross was met by McGinn on the penalty spot and his first time effort was instinctively put over the bar by MacDonald, for what was a tremendous save.
On twenty minutes, a Smith shot was parried by MacDonald, only as far as Hayes and his shot was blocked by Webster for a corner. The game then got a bit scrappy, with the play halted for petty fouling, although again, this was partly down to the wet conditions.
Ten minutes from the break, Aberdeen created another great chance to score. A superb whipped cross from Clark Robertson on the left, was impressively taken first time by Magennis, but once again, he found MacDonald in the way, with a similar save to the one that had kept out McGinn earlier. This was the last real chance of the half, despite some late pressure being applied by the visitors, in the last few minutes of the game.
We then spent the interval trying to find vacant seats in the lower tier of the stand for the second forty five, as the seagulls swooped in around the stands, which can be a bit freaky if you are not used to it!
The second half was ten minutes old, when MacDonald pulled off another great save for Hearts, following an impressive Aberdeen move on the left. McGinn rolled the ball down the line for Low, who crossed for the onrushing Cammy Smith, whose first time volley was palmed over the bar for a corner by the Hearts stopper.
The Dons kept up the pressure, but could not find the net and succumbed to a Hearts sucker punch, just after the hour mark. A corner from the right, saw Ryan Stevenson rise almost unchallenged in the box and his header flew high past Langfield into the net for the opener.
Aberdeen reacted by replacing Smith with another young forward, Declan McManus.
McGinn and Hayes then linked up on the left hand side and from Hayes’ cross, it deflected off Stevenson and spun into the air, before being touched onto the bar by MacDonald, as McHattie cleared.
With twenty minutes left, Aberdeen then replaced Magennis with Scott Vernon as they continued to pursue an equaliser. A Hayes cross, this time from the right, was met by the head of McManus, but his header dropped just over the bar. With Hearts winning, ‘keeper, Jamie MacDonald was in no hurry to take the goal kick, but he saw the funny side of a big Aberdeen fan, who yelled “move yer ar$e ya wee baldy b@stard!!”
There were less than fifteen minutes left, when Hearts gave the ball away on the half way line and was collected by McGinn on the left wing. His cross evaded everyone and was picked up by Hayes on the opposite side. He cut into the box, evading the challenge by McHattie and two other covering Hearts defenders, to square the ball low across the six yard box. McManus and Hamill both slid in for the ball and it squirmed into the net, past the despairing MacDonald, who had been the scourge of the Dons all afternoon! It was almost comical and the equaliser was given as a Hamill own goal.
The Hearts full back nearly made up for his faux pas just a couple of minutes later, when after a couple of intricate passes on the right, Hamill struck a shot from twenty five yards out that must have stung the palms of Langfield, as Shaughnessy hooked the loose ball clear.
Hearts then gave Sutton and Zaliukas a run out for the last couple of minutes, replacing Ryan Stevenson and the anonymous, Michael Ngoo. One minute into stoppage time, Johnny Hayes cut into the box and flashed a shot across the left hand post, but it went out for a goal kick. This proved to be pretty much the last action of the game, as both teams ended the game and the season with honours even.
We took our time leaving the stadium and walked round to see the other side of the ground, as we never got the opportunity before kick off. It took us a while to get our bearings and initially could not remember where we had parked the car! The traffic out the city was horrendous and it was a good hour after full time before we made any real progress on the road home. It was still a good all round trip, with the only real downside being the weather.
The Main Stand at Pittodrie is quite distinguished, with its two tone roof and floodlights on the lip of the roof front. The dugouts are situated in the centre of it and there is a high wall or advertising boards that run along the front, meaning anyone on the bench almost has to look up to the supporters.
It has two tiers and eight supporting pillars, which again may obscure part of your view and is very similar to Hearts’ Tynecastle. To the left of this is the very large and impressive Richard Donald Stand. It was officially opened in 1993 and towers above the other three stands. It is also a two tiered structure and replaced the famous ‘Beach End’ terrace.
We watched the first half in the upper deck, but moved down to the lower tier in the second half, mainly as there were a number of leaks in the roof that were soaking us! Either way, both areas provide a very good view of the pitch. The players tunnel is situated between the Richard Donald and Main Stands.
The South Stand is opposite the Main. It runs the length of the pitch, is all seated and caters for both home and away supporters, with some uncovered seats either side of it, almost in the corners. There are two dividing fences in this section, which I am assuming is to segregate the away fans, while maintaining order within the home support.
Behind the other goal, is the Merkland Family Stand. This is the smallest of the four stands and looks like it was an old terrace area that has had modern seats built into it. There are four supporting pillars in it, but would not imagine it would interfere much with your view of the pitch. After the game we walked past this stand and it has an intriguing monument type wall, which states that it is the Merkland Stand.
As much as the weather was atrocious, I still think Pittodrie is an impressive venue and definitely one of Scotland’s most prestigious football stadiums.