Jim Goodwin rejected any suggestion he was a beaten man after his side were – by his own admission – embarrassed by Hearts at Tynecastle.
It’s the second time in a month the Aberdeen manager has had to effectively apologise to fans for the unacceptable nature of a performance, after he said a 2-1 defeat by Kilmarnock at the end of December must never be repeated.
His side have won just once in eight games in all competitions, and any goodwill from supporters which emanated from the narrow defeat by Rangers in the League Cup semi-final will now have evaporated.
The mitigating circumstances for the Tynecastle debacle are that the players – nine of whom played 120 minutes on a heavy pitch against Rangers on Sunday – were tired.
Three of the defeats in their recent poor run have been against the Old Firm, too.
But the reality is Aberdeen’s defensive record is the second worst in the division, and they have lost half of their 22 league games, and eight of those have been away from home.
That is unsustainable if the club want to achieve European football this season, or even finish in the top six, and it’s why the next month is pivotal for Aberdeen, and Goodwin’s future.
‘They need to sort the defense to finish third’
It starts with a tricky away tie to sixth-tier Darvel in the Scottish Cup on Monday, before a trip to Hibernian in the league, home games against St Mirren and Motherwell, a visit to Celtic Park, and a home meeting with Livingston.
While the club have stated their intention to play attacking football, those games must be about the manager finding a suitable defensive formula, one which yields results. Balance, essentially.
The club went into the season with only two senior first-team centre-backs in Anthony Stewart and Liam Scales, with veteran Andy Considine allowed to leave after 19 years at Pittodrie.
That looks to be an error, and one which the club has little time to fix in the current, always challenging, January window.
“There’s very little to be positive about,” former Aberdeen defender and manager Willie Miller said on Sportsound after the Hearts game.
“The defensive issues have been there all season. They’ve got a lot of good players but that doesn’t make a good team. [Left-back Hayden] Coulson can pass the ball, but he cannot defend.
“You need players that understand how to defend, and Aberdeen don’t have that. Tonight, they’ve got two centre-backs [Scales and Ross McCrorie] that aren’t really centre-backs – that tells the story.
“On the evidence of recent games, Aberdeen will not finish third. You can analyze it all you want. It was torture, there’s been enough proof that work had to be done defensively, and it hasn’t been done.
“Unless they do something dramatic in this window and get the defense sorted out they can give up the ghost of coming third. They need a centre-back and a full back. I can’t see Aberdeen catching Hearts.”
Does familiar dilemma await Cormack?
It all adds up to a pivotal period for Aberdeen and chairman Dave Cormack, who are facing an identical situation to last season.
Under Stephen Glass the club started the 2021-22 campaign positively, but faded until February when the manager was dismissed and Goodwin was brought in.
The two managers have similar records, so time is running out for Goodwin to show he can prove a more successful Aberdeen manager in the long term.
Enough has been going well at the club. The academy has been producing players and, lack of defenders aside, the summer recruitment has delivered a squad – including the likes Bojan Miovski, Duk, and Leighton Clarkson – which is capable of better.
Early home performances proved that, where Aberdeen were strong going forward.
But if results don’t improve quickly, Cormack will reach the same dilemma. Sack the manager and hope a better one will get more from the squad? Or have faith and stick despite the poor results?
The problem with the former is the club’s stability takes another hit, and another manager comes in and wants to take things in a different direction, which presumably would mean more ins and outs.
It’s not a sustainable way to run a club. But nor can results continue like this.
Aberdeen better hope Goodwin and the recruitment team can sort the problems out quickly, or they face another wasted season.