Aberdeen have announced interim manager Barry Robson will remain in charge at Pittodrie until the summer at least.
The former Scotland international, 44, replaced Jim Goodwin who was sacked at the end of January and helped move the club back up the Scottish Premiership.
Aberdeen have won four of their six games under Robson, with the Pittodrie side now fourth – just four points behind Hearts in third, following that 3-0 win over the Jambos before the international break.
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Robson will continue to be assisted by Steve Agnew and said: “Both Steve and I are delighted and honoured to be asked by the board to continue in our current roles and to demonstrate our ability to lead the team in the longer term.
“We have had a tremendous reaction from the players, and they deserve a huge amount of credit for the way they have bought into the things we have asked them to do.
“I fully understand what our objectives are between now and the end of May, and I will work as hard as I possibly can, together with the excellent staff group at the club, to deliver on those expectations.”
‘Aberdeen held talks with six candidates’
Aberdeen had held talks with five other candidates but chairman Dave Cormack believes Robson is the right choice as the Dons bid to secure European football this season.
He said: “The club embarked on a clear and patient process where director of football, Steven Gunn, led the vetting of all inbound applications as well as managing an outbound search, teaming up with an external agency, to unearth candidates that matched our criteria.
“Once the potential manager pool was down to six candidates, Steven and chief executive Alan Burrows, together with non-executive directors Willie Garner and Stewart Milne, conducted interviews.
“Three candidates, including Barry, met with this group in person for further, in-depth discussions over the last week.
“The board subsequently met to debate the outcomes of these interviews and discussions. It was unanimously agreed that Barry should continue in his role initially through to the end of the season.
“We believe that continuing the momentum, high standards and energy that Barry has instilled in the squad, with only nine league games to go, is critical to the club achieving its goal of European football next season.
“Steve Agnew will continue as Barry’s assistant manager during this crucial stage. We look forward to Barry and his team building on the progress they have made through the rest of the season.”
Can Aberdeen win the race for third?
Hearts were 10 points clear of Aberdeen at the beginning of February, with third place and a likely European group spot all seemingly wrapped up. But a glitch seems to have set in over in Gorgie.
Robbie Neilson’s side have lost four out of their last five in all competitions and, with Aberdeen picking up three wins on the bounce, including an emphatic 3-0 victory over the Jambos before the international break, that deficit has been reduced to just four points.
Hibernian have lost their last two to both halves of the Old Firm but Lee Johnson’s side have definitely seen an upturn in form since their Scottish Cup exit to Hearts in late January. They host their Edinburgh rivals at Easter Road on April 15, in what could prove to be a vital encounter in the race for third.
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That third spot in the league would likely mean Europa Conference League group stage football at the very least, with a place in Europa League qualifying preceding it.
The winners of the Scottish Cup are handed a place in Europa League qualifying, with a drop into Conference League group stages from there if that side is unsuccessful in navigating the early rounds. Given that Rangers and Celtic are favourites for the Scottish Cup and have already booked a European berth each then that Scottish Cup winning place would go to the team that finishes third in the league.
The team finishing in fourth would go into qualifying for the Conference League.
Sky Sports pundit Andy Walker thinks Hearts will still seal third place and a likely return to European group stage football – but says there is still work to do for Neilson’s side.
Fixtures ahead of the Premiership split
|Hearts:||Kilmarnock (a)||St Mirren (h)||Hibernian (a)||Ross County (h)|
|Aberdeen:||St Johnstone (a)||Kilmarnock (h)||Ross County (a)||Rangers (h)|
|Hibernian:||Motherwell (h)||Dundee United (a)||Hearts (h)||St Johnstone (a)|
|Livingston:||St Mirren (a)||Motherwell (a)||St Johnstone (h)||Dundee United (a)|
|St Mirren:||Livingston (h)||Hearts (a)||Rangers (a)||Kilmarnock (h)|
“I think there’s a little bit of doubt about Hearts cementing their place as third best in the league,” he said. “They’re five points in front of Hibs, they’ve still got them to play a couple of times. They’re four in front of Aberdeen who seem to be on a bit of a resurgence under Barry Robson. There’s still a bit of work to do.
“I do still think Hearts have the strongest squad and I expect them to see it out, but I think it’ll be interesting to see how it’s played out over the coming weeks.”
Aberdeen’s 3-0 win over Hearts at Pittodrie before the break catapulted the Dons back into serious contention for third. After the chaotic final days of Jim Goodwin’s time in charge – which included heavy defeats to both Edinburgh sides – Robson has quietly re-established Aberdeen as a credible force in the race for Europe.
Duk’s four goals since Robson took charge have been invaluable, with the 23-year-old thriving under the ex-Scotland international. He will be a key player going into the final weeks of the season if the Dons are to catch Hearts and potentially land Robson the job on a permanent basis.
“I think it’s understandable what’s happening at Aberdeen,” Walker added. “When you had the uncertainty with Dave Cormack and his health, that fact that they brought in a new chief executive in Alan Burrows, I think it’s been sensible to buy themselves some time and in that time Barry Robson can’t do much more.
“I think he’s impressed everyone with what he’s got a tune out of the players that were vastly underperforming.
“If they can get their recruitment right again this summer then you want to see Aberdeen, your big city club, doing the best they can and being up there with Hearts and getting the occasional victory over Celtic or Rangers just to ensure that the league is really strong.”
Scottish Premiership fixtures live on Sky
Sunday April 2: Ross County vs Celtic, kick-off 12pm
Saturday April 8: Celtic vs Rangers, kick-off 12.30pm
Sunday April 9: Dundee United vs Hibernian, kick-off 12pm
Friday April 14: Ross County vs Aberdeen, kick-off 7.45pm
Sunday April 16: Kilmarnock vs Celtic, kick-off 12pm
Saturday April 22: Hearts vs Ross County, kick-off 12.30pm
Sunday April 23: Aberdeen vs Rangers, kick-off 4.30pm
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