Derek McInnes believes his Aberdeen side lost the midfield battle as they crashed out of the Betfred Cup against St Mirren.
The Dons were without the influential midfield duo of Lewis Ferguson and Ross McCrorie as the pair continued to self-isolate and their absence showed especially in a dreadful first half.
The visitors improved after the break but succumbed to Jamie McGrath’s late strike after Joe Lewis’ uncharacteristic mistake, leaving the Aberdeen manager frustrated.
McInnes said: “We didn’t start the game well and handed St Mirren the initiative.
“Technically the free-kick was a very good goal but we were dithering in the middle of the park, slow to react and gave away the ball.
“That passage of play probably epitomised that uncertainty in the middle of the park rather than being aggressive and dealing with the situation.
“They were enjoying the middle of the park too much. We don’t lose many battles in the midfield when McCrorie and Ferguson are about.
“A lot of players who’ve formed our identity this season were unavailable and we’ve tried to navigate a difficult week – three away games in six days.”
On his return from injury, Ilkay Durmus fired St Mirren ahead with an excellent free-kick after only four minutes before Niall McGinn equalised just before half-time.
McInnes made two alterations at the interval and changed formation to fix Aberdeen’s issues.
Sam Cosgrove was ineffective in the first half yet a few eyebrows were raised when he failed to emerge after the break but McInnes explained his decision.
He said: “There were no injuries, it was to change the dynamic of the game. I felt we needed to get a hold of the ball more and Curtis (Main) is maybe better than Sam at doing that.
“We wanted Jonny Hayes playing close to him to stretch their defence with ball carriers on the side.”
St Mirren were missing the services of Ethan Erhahon, who signed a new contract until 2023 this week, but manager Jim Goodwin believes the sky’s the limit for the versatile 19-year-old.
He said: “It’s a great bit of business for the club. I’d refer to Ethan in the same category as McCrorie, Ferguson and (Allan) Campbell at Motherwell and they have a few years on him.
“If he keeps playing like he has been then he is capable of replicating (Kenny) McLean and (John) McGinn.”
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.