ABERDEEN manager Derek McInnes insists his Inverness counterpart John Hughes is wasting his breath if he is trying to play mind games ahead of Sunday’s League Cup final between the teams.
McInnes expressed his bemusement at Hughes’ complaint that the SPFL have given Aberdeen an unfair advantage by scheduling a league fixture for Inverness at home to Hibs tonight.
While McInnes admits he is pleased his own squad have a free week to prepare for the Celtic Park showpiece, he believes Hughes is guilty of hypocrisy after previously stating he was happy to have another match in the build-up to the final. As Aberdeen bid to win their first major trophy since 1995, McInnes is adamant his players will not be unnerved by any opposition attempt to place additional pressure on them.
“I don’t know if it’s mind games, you’d need to ask him (Hughes),” said McInnes, who will be at the Caledonian Stadium to run the rule over Inverness tonight. “But I’m a bit confused. Last week he said he’d rather have a game, that ‘these boys would rather play than train.’ So which is it? The good thing from Inverness’s point of view is that they have two players (Greg Tansey and Marley Watkins) who are available for the final now. Without the game against Hibs, they might have been suspended.
“You know, we both had a cup-tie at the weekend and we both ran the risk of getting injuries and suspensions. We can only really speak about our preparation and we’ve had a lot of games recently as well with one or two injuries and concerns.
“From my point of view, would I like a midweek game before a cup final? Absolutely not. But I thought I read comments from him (Hughes) last week about how he was happy with the game.
“Listen, you can pre-write and second-guess what will be said and written in the build-up to our games. It was the Dumbarton players last week, saying all the pressure was on Aberdeen before our Scottish Cup tie. We’ve had it all season.
“From every columnist to the opposition – and I can understand why – there is an expectation on the team. There are 40,000 fans coming to the final but the players have handled every situation and every challenge so far this season. When there are more fans there, then it’s something for the opposition to use (to try and put more pressure on us). I get that totally.
“But it’s not going to affect us. We’re going to play the game, not the occasion, as we have done all season. Whether we’re overwhelming favourites like we were on Saturday against Dumbarton, or underdogs against Celtic at Parkhead as we were in the Scottish Cup, or have a huge question mark hanging over us as we did before the League Cup semi-final, these boys have been good enough and strong enough to deal with that.
“I understand that pressure thing will always be there. There is a responsibility – which brings pressure – of simply being at Aberdeen. We’re all fine with that.”
McInnes was speaking in the plush surroundings of the Old Course Hotel in St Andrew’s where his squad have enjoyed a three-night break. They will return to Aberdeen today as he looks to vary the build-up to a hugely significant occasion for the club.
“We thought long and hard about the preparation,” added McInnes. “We’re not overly blessed with facilities in Aberdeen at the minute, so we felt meeting up on Sunday night and getting away for a few days would be good for the players.
“We’ve had a round of golf and been able to relax a little bit. There is work to be done as well. While we’re here, we can work individually with some players and treat aches and knocks. The hotel caters for sports teams and they’ve been as good as gold, so it’s been the right thing for the players.”
McInnes has been stunned by the response of the Aberdeen public who have snapped up 40,000 tickets for the final and been refused a further allocation.
“In the current financial climate of Scottish football it’s disappointing we can’t cater for fans desperate to come to a game and see their team play,” said McInnes. “I think it’s because of the way the ground has been divided up – to try and please both sets of supporters. But in fairness I don’t think anyone estimated we’d still be looking for more tickets than we have got. We’re touching 3,000 in hospitality with 40,000 supporters. It’s a lot of fans and nobody envisaged that at the outset.
“I’d rather have them with us than against us, but it’s not going to determine how the game goes. There are going to be a lot of people in the Aberdeen support who haven’t seen us this season, that’s a fact. There will be fans who aren’t our die-hards and with us every week. But if you’ve paid your money to get a ticket, you’ll get behind the team as well. It would be great if we could have that real strong vocal backing that we’ve had up and down the country, none more so than against St Johnstone in the semi-final.
“The atmosphere created by our support was terrific. It made the whole game and made the day special. But it’s still what we do on the pitch that’ll count whether we win the cup or not.”
McInnes has been handed a boost with the news Peter Pawlett, an influential figure in Aberdeen’s fine season so far, has recovered from a hip injury and will be available for the final.
“Peter will be fit,” added McInnes. “He hasn’t trained with the squad but has done everything the physio has expected of him. He should train on Wednesday and, if he comes through pain-free, that will be him. The physios are confident that he’ll be good to go. They wouldn’t give him back to us if they didn’t think he was fit.”