A lunchtime victory at Kilmarnock today will move Aberdeen six points clear of Rangers before they kick off at Dens Park later this afternoon, but Derek McInnes has his eyes on a bigger prize than just the runners-up spot in the Premiership this season.
For Dons supporters there is no greater rivalry than the bitter feud with the Ibrox club, and the only way to top the pleasure they felt when their manager declared earlier this week that he had no interest in replacing Mark Warburton there, would be to finish above them in the league.
It’s something McInnes is determined to deliver but he admits that denying Celtic a domestic treble by lifting the Scottish Cup in May would be much more significant than preventing Rangers claiming second place in the table.
Of course it would be quite an achievement if Aberdeen were to go on and finish above a team with several times their budget but it is not one their manager believes would live long in the memory of anyone outwith Pittodrie.
Instead, McInnes would rather create a bit of football history by steering Aberdeen to a first Scottish Cup win since Alex Smith’s side 27 years ago and prevent Brendan Rodgers celebrating a first season in charge of Celtic with a domestic clean sweep.
“I’d rather win the Scottish Cup than finish second. No-one really remembers that you finished second,” claimed McInnes. “You get that instant good feeling when you achieve it but there’s a longevity about winning a cup, it’s more tangible.
“Obviously I want both and I think we’re capable of doing both but if you ask me now I’d rather win the Scottish Cup. It’s history as people always remember cup-winning teams, as the boys who won us the League Cup final a few years ago already know.
“We’ve been to one cup final this season and it didn’t go the way we wanted it to (a 3-0 defeat against Celtic) but we still feel there’s another one left in us.
“We’ll try to win the Scottish Cup if we can, and we believe we can do it, and if we can also be the team who finish behind Celtic in the league this year, it will be a brilliant reflection on everyone considering the vast resources Rangers have over everyone else.”
McInnes celebrates four years in charge at Pittodrie next month and he has delivered sustained success throughout that period since taking over from Craig Brown with the team stuck in the bottom six.
Aberdeen are back playing regular European football, closing in on a third straight runners-up spot, and the 2014 League Cup final win against Inverness Caledonian Thistle delivered the first silverware in 19 years. Off the field a decision is expected in June on planning permission for a state-of-the-art training ground and a new 20,000 seater stadium at Kingsford on the outskirts of the city, with the former due to be delivered late next year and the latter in 2021 if approved.
Adam Rooney, Jonny Hayes, Graeme Shinnie and Andrew Considine have all recently signed new long-term deals with the club but Niall McGinn and captain Ryan Jack are out of contract in May.
McInnes admits his main job now is to make sure Aberdeen don’t become victims of their own success as Cardiff City’s recently rejected £600,000 bid for Hayes shows the team are attracting wider attention now. He added:“My biggest challenge is keeping the players here. Even though crowds are up, the football budget hasn’t grown.
“So it’s difficult to keep players here, especially when they gain a profile through sustained good performances.
“It would be naïve to think no-one would be interested in our players. The fact we had to knock back a bid for Jonny Hayes proves we can do it. It also shows that other clubs are watching our players.
“That doesn’t surprise me – I’ve got loads of boys here who could play at clubs that pay more money and might give them a better way of life. But we’ve always tried to create an environment here that makes it hard to leave.
“The club is certainly busier than it was four years ago. But until we get the training ground, the stadium and the ability to grow the budget – it’s always going to be a challenge.”