What is it with Aberdeen and Hampden Park? They took the League Cup back to Pittodrie in 2014 but with the National Stadium under construction, their convincing victory in the semi-final over St Johnstone came at Tynecastle while their penalty shootout win versus Inverness took place at Celtic Park. Before today, Aberdeen had failed to secure a positive result at Hampden since their Scottish Cup semi-final win over Hibernian in 2000.
Either side of 2014, Aberdeen’s progression to the semi-final of tournaments has been rare and when they have it has ended in bitter, often embarrassing disappointment. There was a time not so long ago when Hearts were labelled “always the bridesmaids” for perpetually coming up short in finals. In recent years, Aberdeen have struggled to even be invited as guests to the wedding’s meal.
They exited both tournaments at the first time of asking last season and lost to Dundee at a similar stage in the Scottish Cup the previous season. That was followed by a semi-final at Hampden versus Dundee United, which they lost after taking the lead through loanee Donervon Daniels.
Hibernian were the authors of Aberdeen’s downfall at Hampden in 2012 in the Scottish Cup semi-final despite a sensational Rory Fallon equaliser. Prior to that, they lost eight goals across two semi-finals to Celtic during the 2010/11 season.
The Hampden heartache at the forefront of Aberdeen minds during this period – and the one that would have came to mind in the build-up to this weekend’s clash versus Morton – is undoubtedly their 4-3 horrorshow versus Queen of the South in 2008. That came after an eight-year wait to return to the National Stadium, the previous time being their 4-0 defeat to Rangers in the Scottish Cup final. They were handicapped early in that match when Jim Leighton went of injured in the opening minutes. With only three substitutes allowed in those days, manager Ebbie Skovdahl decided that three outfield players would suffice. This backfired and Aberdeen had to play almost the entire match with Robbie Winters between the sticks.
Even Morton had them on the ropes at times over the 90 minutes, most notably when Joe Lewis threw out a leg to deny Jai Quitongo during a first half one-on-one. The mistake exposed the obvious weakness in this Aberdeen team. Anthony O’Connor has come in and solidified the defence, but whoever lines up next to him has their deficiencies. Ash Taylor, missing through injury, always seems to have a mistake in him and Mark Reynolds, partnering O’Connor on the day, allowed Quitongo in for his big chance and didn’t seem on the same wavelength as the rest of his defence on several other occasions.
Jim Duffy’s side were even enjoying one of their better spells in the second half when Adam Rooney nodded his side ahead, although replays suggested the assistant should have flagged for offside. Aberdeen managed their nerves well, however, and their second goal came at a stage when Morton, with the clock running away from them, threw extra bodies up front.
As far back as the culmination of last season, McInnes set out that silverware was his priority. Their arsenal in attacking areas, as well as their options from the bench, meant that they were always favourties against Morton so long as the scores remained level. In the end the likes of Wes Burns and Miles Storey were merely used to run down the clock in injury-time after Kenny McLean had tapped in with five minutes remaining to send Aberdeen to a Hampden final for the first time in 16 and a half years.