PETER Pawlett is confident Aberdeen will continue their impressive progress under the stewardship of Derek McInnes but is equally certain that challenging Celtic for the title depends on the division’s other ten teams doing their bit against the defending champions.
The midfielder scored the Dons’ winner in a dramatic Scottish Cup success at Parkhead last February and was influential in their Premiership victory against what was then Neil Lennon’s team, at Pittodrie later that same month.
The problem is, that was the only defeat Celtic suffered in the league that season and Pawlett knows it is unrealistic to overhaul the 30-point deficit that existed if there’s a similar scenario this time round.
Aberdeen’s Europa League performances certainly suggest they are capable of building on the impressive achievements during McInnes’s first full season in charge which delivered a first trophy in 19 years.
FK Daugava Riga were ruthlessly disposed of before a thoroughly professional performance when winning in the Netherlands took care of a Groningen side who defeated Aston Villa 4-1 in a friendly just last week.
Even the silkily skilful Spaniards of Real Sociedad had a few uncomfortable moments at Pittodrie on Thursday night before closing out a 5-2 aggregate win, with Pawlett claiming one of Aberdeen’s goals.
David Goodwillie made his first start for the club since moving from Blackburn Rovers in that tie and showed enough to prove he will add real quality in terms of the sort of goal threat the side lacked at crucial stages last season.
That’s one of five additions McInnes has made during the summer, along with goalkeeper Scott Brown, central defender Ashton Taylor and winger Jeffery Monakana, while Shay Logan has made his loan move permanent. It all adds up to a greater strength in depth that Pawlett believes will bring sustained success, but he is realistic enough to know that a tilt at the title will need more than just the Dons to defeat Celtic in the league this season.
Guarded optimism would be the best way to describe his approach to that, as he said: “I don’t see why we can’t challenge them. We beat them twice last season and that gives you confidence.
“Celtic are always going to be right up there given the budget that they have and it will be difficult to compete with them but, if we just keep picking up results and if a few other teams start getting positive results against them, then that will help. We were the only team to beat them in the league last season so, if more sides can do that, then you never know what will happen.
“All we’ve got to do is go out there to get the three points every week and you never know where you are going to be at the end.
“We did well, just missing out on second place and winning a cup last time round, so we just want to improve on that this season.
“I think we have added some more quality to the squad and, if we work hard, then we can go on to have an even better campaign this time.
“The manager has brought in the likes of David Goodwillie and you could see the ability he has in the way he played against Real Sociedad.
“He will offer a lot to the team and when you look at the points we achieved last season, it was our best in a lot of years. Now it’s our aim to get more again now.”
That process starts against Dundee United in front of another packed Pittodrie crowd this afternoon where attendances were up by an average of 4,000 during last season’s revival.
Aberdeen might find it hard to boost their points tally in meetings with their north-east rivals, though, as they took ten of the 12 points available from the games between them last season.
Of course Dundee United have sold Andrew Robertson to Hull City and the precociously gifted Ryan Gauld to Sporting Lisbon since then, which could put the visitors at an even greater disadvantage.
McInnes admits Aberdeen’s European performances make holding on to the likes of Ryan Jack and Pawlett much more difficult in the long term and that he wouldn’t stand in their way given the financial rewards elsewhere anyway.
The good thing is both are on long-term contracts and Pawlett, for one, is in no hurry to leave Pittodrie at this particular stage of his career.
He added: “Dundee United have lost a couple of their good young players but they are a good side and it will be a difficult opening game.
“I’m happy at Aberdeen but it is great for those lads earning their moves and I’m pleased for them, but I’m concentrating on playing here.”
Pawlett will definitely start today’s game, as will Taylor, as the summer signing from Tranmere Rovers will replace suspended skipper Russell Anderson, while Barry Robson is in line to take over from Jonny Hayes who is also serving a one-match ban.