Title race is not over for Aberdeen, says Derek McInnes

Adam Rooney's scoring record has been one of the keys to Aberdeen's recent run of good form. Picture: SNS
Adam Rooney's scoring record has been one of the keys to Aberdeen's recent run of good form. Picture: SNS
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dEREK McInnes believes the manner in which they defeated Celtic last September means Aberdeen no longer need to rely on hard-luck stories, even if they ultimately fall short of winning a first league title in 31 years.

Last season brought the Pittodrie club their highest finish in two decades on the back of a biggest ever points tally but they were still left wondering what might have been achieved with a better record against the champions.

A frustrated Dons manager had watched his team lose all four league games against Ronny Deila’s side, which made a significant contribution to the 17-point gap between them by the end.

McInnes feared he was watching the same old movie when Celtic led against the run of play at the interval in the first meeting of the current campaign at Pittodrie.

However this current Aberdeen team rallied with the sort of grit and determination that has kept them on the Celtic’s coat-tails this season by staging a comeback win that was all the more impressive as the decisive goal was scored after Jonny Hayes had been sent off.

McInnes assiduously avoids any extravagant claims when it comes to denying Celtic another league title but he is convinced that same sort of attitude can reduce their advantage to three points when the top two clash at Pittodrie again on Wednesday.

“There was a feeling at half time of ‘how are we behind here?’” he recalls. “There was nothing in the game and then Leigh Griffiths came up with something a bit special again and they got themselves in front.

“That happens against teams of quality just when you think you’re doing alright but from half time there was a feeling of: ‘No more hard-luck stories’. Even doing it with ten men, we still managed to get the goal that won the game. The script was being written as per last season – until half time.

“We’re not perfect by any stretch but we’re always competitive and trying to be that and the importance of my good players really turning up and playing to their level is pivotal to everything we do.”

They have certainly done that since an astonishing 21st successive league defeat at Parkhead last October, winning seven games in a unbeaten run of ten Premiership matches.

That has seen Aberdeen pick up one point more than Celtic during that time and their manager puts it down to his players responding to similar pressures to those experienced by the defending champions.

“There is a huge demand on this club and I said that even last season we got a wee bit of Celtic in us,” said McInnes. “That’s because there was a feeling from everybody, and not just our own support, for us to keep winning.

“The players have done that time and time again. We have 3,000 at away games and 15,000 at home games turning up expecting us to win. That’s the way it is in terms of demands for Celtic and we have created that ourselves and the players have dealt with that more often than not.”

None more so than Adam Rooney, who was the Premierships leading goalscorer last season and who McInnes expects to be challenging Leigh Griffiths for the title again this season.

Rooney finished four ahead of his Celtic rival in terms of league goals scored last time and trails him by the same margin ahead of their own personal duel this midweek.

Both scored in each of the two previous meetings and the Irishman’s importance to Aberdeen is reflected by the fact they didn’t win the only three games out of the last 13 when he has failed to score.

McInnes added: “We are delighted with him and just as Celtic have come to rely on Leigh Griffiths then we rely on Adam. I think these sort of guys are all cut from the same cloth.

“Leigh deserves so much credit for the way he has been fine tuning his game and Adam deserves similar credit for us. I think when Adam’s scoring as many goals then the longer the season goes on he will be looking at the goal charts.

“Players like Rooney and Griffiths are the type that if the team has won and they haven’t scored then there is not the same satisfaction when they get back in their cars after the match.

“I’m not saying they are happy to score goals when the team haven’t won but it’s only been a good days work in their eyes if they score.”