IT IS not simply on the pitch that Derek McInnes has moulded his Aberdeen team into the epitome of a well-drilled and intensely disciplined unit.
As their eye-catching run of results is maintained at the top of the Scottish Premiership, his players are also proving highly adept at following his mantra of refusing to publicly declare themselves as title contenders.
It would come as no surprise to learn that McInnes has threatened anyone who veers away from that party line with a fine, such is the grim determination of the Dons squad to avoid making any comments which could be construed as proclaiming a challenge to Celtic’s crown.
The best efforts of both seasoned Sunday and daily newspaper journalists at Paisley on Saturday could not persuade either Jonny Hayes or Peter Pawlett to respond with anything other than a straight bat. If it can be frustrating for those of us engaged in the business of seeking newsworthy quotes, it is a formula which is undoubtedly serving McInnes and his increasingly impressive side well.
This eighth consecutive league victory and clean sheet, which re-opened a four-point lead over Celtic at the top of the table, was achieved in a manner which strengthened the belief of many observers that the Pittodrie club are capable of sustaining their tilt at the champions.
As solid at the back as you would expect of a team who have not conceded a league goal for two months, there is a balanced look to Aberdeen who are capable of making the transition from defence to attack with telling efficiency.
The deployment of the versatile Hayes as a deeper-lying central midfielder is proving something of a masterstroke from McInnes.
Along with the impressively consistent Ryan Jack, Hayes was a major influence in Aberdeen’s latest success against a St Mirren side who actually started the contest as brightly as the visitors.
It required a touch of good fortune for Aberdeen to make their 31st-minute breakthrough, Niall McGinn’s cross from the left catching in the swirling wind and deceiving Saints goalkeeper Mark Ridgers as the ball squeezed beyond him at his left hand post.
The home team were still cursing their luck when Aberdeen doubled their lead two minutes later, McGinn linking up on the left with Hayes whose low cross was swept home from close range by advancing right-back Shay Logan.
That was effectively game over.
Aberdeen protected their latest clean sheet with grim resilience after the break, while also passing up a couple of clear chances to add to their tally at the other end.
“We just keep working hard and picking up results,” said attacking midfielder Pawlett. “That’s what the manager wants us to do, we don’t look any further ahead than the next game.
“St Mirren were on top early on and we just grouped together and said ‘let’s get the finger out here’. The second goal relaxed us and confidence flowed throughout the team.
“We are confident that we can defend collectively as a team when we get in front. We’ve had so many clean sheets now and we want to keep that record going.”
Asked if he felt as if he was part of a title-chasing team, Pawlett produced the now customary ambiguous response.
“I just feel we are a good team,” he shrugged. “We all get on so well as a group of lads and we are all working so hard for each other. We are all pitching in and I think that’s a sign of a good team.
“You look at the first half when we were under the cosh a bit, but we managed to get two goals and that’s the sign of a good team. We are all confident right now and when you are winning games the confidence just keeps growing.
“Everyone is really upbeat right now in the city but we are only halfway there. In the dressing room, we keep a lid on things and work hard at training every single day and just look forward to the next game.
“It’s good for the fans to get all excited about it but we are keeping a lid on things.”
Although the Aberdeen players are unwilling to talk up their status as potential champions, their opponents have no such inhibitions. Jim Goodwin, the experienced St Mirren central defender, is in no doubt that Celtic have a fight on their hands this season.
“Aberdeen are the real deal and deserve to be up there,” said Goodwin. “When you look throughout their team they’ve got great experience but also young energetic boys with great legs. They can hurt you.
“One minute you think you are comfortable, then all of a sudden there are five or six of them running at you. There’s great pace within their team and Derek McInnes deserves a hell of a lot of credit.
“They obviously work hard on the training ground – you don’t just turn up on a Saturday and things happen like that. They obviously work really hard on the defensive side of it as they are really well organised.
“They’re blessed with a team of great individuals but also collectively as a team that are a solid unit and I think they will run Celtic all the way.”
St Mirren face a very different kind of battle at the other end of the table with Saturday’s defeat dropping them to the bottom behind Ross County on goals scored. It makes next weekend’s meeting of the struggling pair in Dingwall even more significant.
“It’s the old cliche, a six-pointer and all that stuff,” said Goodwin. “But it’s a must-win game, that’s the bottom line. We deserve to be where we are at the moment because of the cheap goals we have been conceding all season. We have to cut that out if we are to have any chance of staying in the league.”