DEFENDING a trophy is often regarded as tougher than winning it. But regardless of whether Aberdeen can retain their grip on the League Cup, Derek McInnes insists they have already proved their revival under his guidance is no flash in the pan.
The Pittodrie club face Dundee United in today’s Hampden semi-final, hoping to take a step closer to holding on to the piece of silverware which ended their 19-year wait for a domestic major last season.
“It’s very important to us because it feels like it our trophy,” said manager McInnes. “Technically, it still is and we will do all we can to keep it.
“Other teams have won the League Cup in recent seasons and not gone on from there. But our form in the league has shown we have improved. We are not just a team who can win a cup then do nothing else.
“We have shown, this season and last, that there is a lot to like about us. I see that improvement and I still think there’s more to come from us.
“Would it mean more if we won the League Cup again this season? It would be the same. Every time you lift a trophy it demonstrates how hard it is to achieve it. It’s better to have the experience of doing it before, but that doesn’t give you any guarantees you’ll win a game against a good side.
“At our club there’s been an expectation to go the full way. You see the level of support we had last year at the semi-final and final – the desperation and need was there. The players handled that well.”
The improvement McInnes effected at Aberdeen last season earned him the Manager of the Year award but he is keen to deflect praise onto those who have been so consistent on the pitch.
“I think the job is easier when you are working with good players,” he added. “I’ve got good, motivated players at the club. We’ve always tried to give players the chance to be at their best on a Saturday. If you invest in them, they’ll give you that back and more.
“We try to create a good spirit and winning games helps that. Spirit can help you win games even if you’re not at your best. You just want the team to be an extension of yourself. Whether we’re at our best or not, teams have to play well to beat us.
“I wasn’t sure when I first came in to the club and I had five weeks to make judgements on the squad and staff. There were a load of changes, wholesale changes. We moved a lot of players on, and staff moved on. We thought we wanted to give ourselves every chance. We felt if we got the right people in the building then we would give ourselves an opportunity to meet what is expected of an Aberdeen team.
“There is an expectation but that’s also part of the attraction of working for the club. Are we ahead of what was expected? I just want us to improve. I wanted us to compete quickly and get a team on the pitch that was respected in Scotland again. It pleases me no end that we are that team at the minute. But we have to keep trying to build on it as more will be expected as we go along.
“It’s just about being ready to go to work, being ready to go to war at three o’clock. We all want to play nice football – and we do – but you’ve got to be a competitive animal too. You can’t just be a good player. Winning is the reason we are all out there. I think we’ve got a good competitive edge to the squad. Plaudits are great but not if you’re losing. We’re here to win.
“I can’t comment on previous teams but we’ve done well in the cups. We try to bring cup football to our league games. Every game is important to us. In the cup, regardless of whether it’s beating Celtic in the Scottish Cup last season or when we’re favourites at home, as we were against Livingston, every game is important to us, regardless of crowd or opposition. The players have shown that. We’ve got a big game on Saturday but it’s now second nature to the players and that’s how it should be.”