Jonny Hayes has spent a futile week wondering how it all went so spectacularly wrong for Aberdeen in last weekend’s Betfred Cup final but the winger is still as baffled as everyone else regarding the reasons for that lacklustre performance.
What the Republic of Ireland international is sure of though is that a first league win at Ibrox in 25 years this afternoon will at least start the healing process for the Dons supporters who relish defeating Rangers above all others.
The Glasgow club’s exile to the lower divisions mean this will be the first time Hayes has experienced the fixture at the Govan ground but he’s already well aware of the significance of these occasions after Aberdeen’s dramatic 2-1 win when they met at Pittodrie in October.
James Maddison’s sumptuous last-minute free-kick to clinch the victory made it all the sweeter and Hayes, pictured, knows something similar is needed today to make amends for failing to deliver on the expectation generated in the build-up to that 3-0 loss to Celtic last Sunday.
“The blame lies solely with how we started the game,” was the Irishman’s candid admission. “The preparation was perfect, the chairman looked after us at St Andrews for the few days before and everything was done right until 3pm.
“It’s hard to get away from the fact we lost the cup final. We didn’t play as well as I know we can do. Nobody really knows why. We knew we had to play well to beat a good Celtic team but it was one of those days where it just didn’t happen for us.
“We came back in on Tuesday and the manager has done a good job of lifting the spirits and now we have changed our focus completely. It’s good that the focus has switched to the Rangers game and there has been a buzz about the city this week and people are talking about it already. It’s easier for the players than the supporters to put the final behind us as we have another game to focus on and the Rangers game is one everyone is looking forward to.
“What I do remember is how much the match meant and how happy everyone was during the week after we beat them at Pittodrie. The way we won it too, with James’ last- minute goal, it almost feels like two wins.”
Becoming the first Aberdeen team to win at Ibrox since Alex Smith’s side in 1991 would move them back above Rangers in the table with two games in hand ahead of a run of three home matches in a week against Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and Motherwell.
That, and the fact that Rangers and Hearts meet again at Ibrox next weekend, gives them a chance to strengthen their challenge for second place but Hayes knows holding on to the runners-up spot is getting tougher all the time.
Not that he is obsessed with every nuance, as someone who has made no secret of the fact he doesn’t watch much football on the telly and spent Wednesday night putting up the family Christmas tree instead of being glued to the action from Tynecastle.
It also means he pays no heed to the criticism Rangers received in the wake of that 2-0 defeat when he added:“They played really well when they were here and they will feel aggrieved not to take anything. If I was a Rangers fan I’d be quite happy with where they are right now.
“It gets tougher every year [getting second place]. Hearts had a great season last year and are better again this year and not only are we dealing with a good Hearts side we’re up against a good Rangers side as well.”