JOHN Hughes has again insisted that “everyone” wants Aberdeen to win tomorrow’s League Cup final at Celtic Park. The Inverness Caley Thistle manager has tried all week to portray his team not only as the underdogs, but as a club who are regarded with distaste by the rest of Scottish football.
“Are we underdogs?” he asked. “Massively so. We’ll be outnumbered four to one as far as fans go. They’ve got a goalscorer, a player in Adam Rooney who, as soon as I knew he was up for grabs, being an ex-Inverness player and trying to do my job, I had a sniff at him but couldn’t afford him.
“Aberdeen are in the position where they can afford him. Good on you, well done Derek [McInnes, the Aberdeen manager]. It’s been a while since they’ve lifted a trophy.
“In a lot of people’s eyes we feel a lot of people didn’t want us there, we’re not glamorous enough to be there. But we are there. We’ve upset a lot of people getting there. We’ll take 7,000 fans, maybe get it up to 10,000.
“Everyone wants Aberdeen to win. They’re expected to win. We’ll turn up and give it our best shot.”
Hughes’ attempt to play the ‘no-one likes us, we don’t care’ card was transparently an attempt to paint his club as plucky outsiders – and, by association, to put pressure on Aberdeen by portraying them as the big club with a long history of winning trophies. “I don’t think it’s rocket science,” he continued.
“Aberdeen is a big club. They’re massive favourites. All the pressure is on Aberdeen. Their history, from Sir Alex Ferguson and the great international players.
“I walked in there on Saturday and saw them all and you’re like ‘wow’. These players have to go and win a cup for these 40,000 fans going to be there. We’ll just give it our best shot. If Inverness win the boys are legends. We’ll just concentrate on Inverness.”
Hughes does not expect any unorthodox selections or tactics from McInnes, and implied that he would also stick with his tried and trusted players and gameplan. “We’re all in Scottish football and we play each other that many times,” he said. “You go and watch games, you’re sitting watching games. I’ve seen Aberdeen and I know them like the back of my hand. I’m sure Derek knows us like the back of his hand too.
“I know his team and he’s got two decisions to make. Does he play Tate or Anderson centre-half? Does he play Jack in midfield or Robson. If it’s Jack in midfield then the other decision is whether to play Robson wide. I wouldn’t even try to outwit Derek.
“We turn up on the day, give it our best shot, don’t get caught ‘rabbit in the headlights’ and go and enjoy it. Don’t get caught up in the occasion, play the game and, if we do that and carry some luck, there’s a real chance it could come back to Inverness.
“If it does it’ll be a real historic day, the boys will be legends and they’ll deserve it because we’re there on merit.
“You shouldn’t put a strip on if you’ve not got that fire in your belly. You shouldn’t do that to your team-mates.
“You try to get in players’ heads, it takes all sorts. Some you kick, some you cuddle. Some you speak to. Come cup final day I’ve not got time to do that. They need to play the game of their lives. Simple – black and white.
“When it’s there to be saved, Dean Brill, you save it. If you can make a ‘worldy’ save to keep us in the match you make it.
“You make every decision. When it’s there to defend you defend, you tackle, you kick, you get on the ball and pass it. And, if a chance comes your way, Billy McKay, stick it in the back of the net.
“Carry a wee bit of luck and Aberdeen aren’t at it and they don’t play to their standards, we can win that cup.”
Hughes has been in a League Cup final before, back when it was known as the CIS Cup after the then sponsors. Playing for Ayr United against a Rangers side that included his current assistant manager Russell Latapy, he ended up on the wrong side of a 4-0 defeat.
“I swapped shirts with Russell. I’ve still got it in the house. My windows are absolutely sparkling,” Hughes joked.
“They beat us 4-0. I couldn’t really get near to Russell. I was too busy marking the real good Rangers players in Caniggia, McCann and all these guys.
“But using that kind of experience is massive. I can only use being there as a player and being privileged to have been there as a player and manager to put these guys in a mindset and relax them to go out and play.
“What will be will be, but one thing I guarantee when we wake up in the morning we’ll all still be breathing. Leave nothing on that pitch. That’ll be my final words – to have no regrets.
“If that means, after an hour, you’ve done yourself and you’ve run your race put your hand up and come off and someone else will hopefully go on and finish the job.”
Hughes has only been in his current job for a few months, but has been impressed by the club and the city. He believes that victory tomorrow can only strengthen the bond between them, and make the lure of bigger clubs in the south easier for local youngsters to resist.
“There have been posters of fans from the semi at Easter Road,” added Hughes. “There’s a photo of the fans and I’ve picked out four or five teenagers. They’ve got Inverness strips on – not Celtic or Rangers strips.
“That’s the message. If we can make all these primary kids and secondary kids going to school proud of their hometown club win, lose or draw, that’s what this cup final means.
“It sets us up for years to come then. I don’t know the plans. I dare to dream but, hopefully, we can win that cup for these guys – maybe small in numbers but real pride in the support of their club. Inverness is my home and I love it to bits”