It was always going to be an impossible task to follow on from the remarkable
acheivements of Alex Ferguson, and the task seemed to be too much for Ian Porterfield. The
Dons did not have to look far for a replacement, though, as Porterfield had already engaged Alex Smith in a limited capacity.
Aberdeen had decided to go for a complete overhaul
and appointed a three-tier managment team with Jocky Scott joining Smith as co-manager.
Drew Jarvie also made a welcome return as assistant manager. Both Scott and
Jarvie were former Aberdeen players and their return was devastating for Dundee Football Club who were now left seeking a new managment team of their own.
Smith had enjoyed the great European nights at Pittodrie as often as
he could while he was manager at St Mirren. He was aware that the Dons had slipped from grace in European terms - "It has been something of a famine recenly when you look back at the club's recent record, however I would defy
anyone who said that Aberdeen are no longer a force in Europe. I was with our
youth team in Switzerland recently and I can assure you that Aberdeen are still a big name in Europe. There was something very special about Pittodrie on European
nights and I want to bring that back again." Alex Smith would have final
say on team affairs with his partner Jocky Scott looking after the first team training. The first task for Smith was to bring in an experienced keeper. Jim Leighton had moved on to Manchester United and Smith moved quickly to bring in Theo Snelders from Twente Enchede.
The new Aberdeen manager also had to strengthen the side up front as a lack of goals under Portefield was an ongoing concern. Utility player Paul Mason was also brought in as Smith opened up a new market in Holland.
Under the new regime things certainly improved as the Dons began to show the flair that was sadly lacking under Ian Porterfield. However, despite challenging for all domestic honours Aberdeen eventually had to settle for a second place behind Rangers, as well as losing out in another classic League Cup Final to the Ibrox side.
It was in season 1989/90 that under Smith and Scott, that Aberdeen fired a reminder to the world that
they were still around when the silverware was being handed out. Sucess in both the League and Scottish Cup was tangible reward for the efforts of
the Dons managment team. In 1989 the Dons returned to Hampden and defeated
their great rivals Rangers with two Paul Mason goals. In May 1990 an Histroic Scottish Cup final was decided by penalties for the first time. It was big Brian Irvine who scored the decisive penalty after Theo Snelders had saved from Anton Rogan of Celtic. By that time Smith had again plundered the Dutch market and brought in Hans Gillhaus, a European Cup winner with PSV Eindhoven. A record buy at £650,000, the Dutch internationalist was an immediate success and he formed a brief but stunning partnership with Charlie Nicholas.
Aberdeen had also finished as runners up in the league once more and it was the following season's league race that was to prove decisive for Alex Smith.
Although the Dons boss had failed to ignite the European passions at Pittodrie that had become so familliar at Pittodrie, the one real prize that Aberdeen coveted was the League Championship. During season 1990/91 the Dons emerged as the only real challengers to Rangers who had been dominant under Graeme Souness. In games between Aberdeen and Rangers there was little to choose between the teams, but the long haul of the League was eventually settled on the last dramatic day at Ibrox in May. Aberdeen had clawed back a big Rangers lead to take the race right down to the wire. On the penultimate day of the season Aberdeen still trailed Rangers and their fate was still out of their control. The Dons eased past St Johnstone at Pittodrie but it was at Fir park that the whole race was blown wide open. Rangers had been rocked by the departure of Souness to Liverpool and they were stunned to lose 3-0 at Motherwell. When the dust had settled down it emerged that Abedeen could go to Ibrox on the final day and get a draw to win the title. Rangers were clearly rattled. In a game that was played in a vitriolic atmosphere it was two Hateley goals that kept the title at Ibrox. The Dons inquests were long and bitter. Aberdeen had gone into the last game of the season on the back of a 12-game run that had brought
them real success. At Ibrox, an apparent change in tactics provbed disastrous.
Alex Smith was clearly not helped by the fact that he had to throw rookie keeper, Michael Watt into a match of such importance. Even then, the Dons missed two gilt edge chances to take the lead. It could have been all so different, but Alex Smith was never really forgiven for that day.
The hangover was to linger into the following season. There was little evidence of what was to follow as the Dons started the season brightly. Alex Smith seemed to have found a winning blend. However a shock defeat at home to Airdrie in the League Cup set the alarm bells ringing. Against BK1903 Copenhagen in the UEFA Cup things deteriorated so much that there were fans demonstrations all around. It was a real test of Alex Smith's resolve and his cause was not helped when Jocky Scott jumped ship shortly after the European tie to take over at Dunfermline. These were certainly troubled times at Pittodrie and there seemed no way back for Smith as the Dons had slipped to mid table.
What was of more concern was the dip in Pittodrie crowds. Apathy seemed to rule, as there was no prospect of Aberdeen maintaining interest in the season beyond January. Such a scenario had been unheard of in recent times.
It all came to a head after another disappointing result at home to Hibernian. Smith was defiant to the end and was eventually sacked in Febuary 1992. On reflection it seemed harsh and in hindsight the club may have wished it had taken another course of action but with Willie Miller having taken over the running of the young Dons it was the former Dons' legend that was asked to restore the clubs fortunes.