NOTHING, it seems, can wipe the collective smile from Aberdeen’s face this week. The city even bucked the national weather trend yesterday, enjoying a bright spell as much of the country endured torrential rain.
It certainly felt only appropriate that the sun should come out at Pittodrie while Derek McInnes had his photograph taken with the Scottish Premiership Manager of the Month award for February, a period which laid the foundations for his truly memorable March.
The flashbulbs and camera-phones will be out in force this Sunday, when McInnes and his Aberdeen players take the plaudits of the Granite City public during an open-top bus parade to mark last weekend’s League Cup final triumph, the only downside of which was a collarbone injury to winger Jonny Hayes which has ruled him out for six weeks and will see him miss next month’s Scottish Cup semi-final against St Johnstone.
After almost 19 years without a trophy, Sunday’s celebrations should be beyond spoiling. Nonetheless, McInnes is keen to ensure the feelgood factor is not even slightly diluted by his team’s result or performance against Kilmarnock at Pittodrie tomorrow when they return to their quest to finish best of the rest in the top flight behind Celtic this season.
“The players deserved the right to celebrate and they did that on Sunday and into Monday,” said McInnes. “We’ve now had them back in and they know there’s still a lot to play for – and a lot they could miss out on this season. There are five league games before the split and there’s no room for error.
“There are other teams in about us and we’re going to need to keep up the consistency if we want to think about a strong finish and getting a European spot.
“Winning the League Cup is not like winning the Scottish Cup where you can kick back and reflect on it at the end of a season. You can enjoy this for a day or two and then it’s back to business. The time for reflection is the end of the season.
“We’ve got the open-top bus to look forward to and that will be a great experience for the players. But we all know it can quickly disappear. No-one would have envisaged 19 years ago it would be so long before Aberdeen saw another trophy. We’ve got another opportunity in the Scottish Cup, the chance to finish second in the league and we need to go and grab it. It’s been a good seven months but we need to finish it off.
“The parade comes in between two important league games, against Kilmarnock on Saturday and then Ross County next Tuesday night, and we have to deal with that. But we’d rather have it, because some top Aberdeen teams have had that experience and I want this group to share it too. It brings the players and the support even closer together which is a good thing. Hopefully we can go into the parade on the back of a win over Kilmarnock on Saturday.”
One of the songs which will serenade the Aberdeen players this weekend is their Red Army’s version of Don’t You Want Me? by the Human League, which incorporates midfielder Peter Pawlett’s name in the chorus and is set to re-enter the UK singles chart on Sunday.
McInnes joked that only his captain Russell Anderson and veteran deputy goalkeeper, Nicky Weaver, had actually heard of the Human League. There were mystified looks all round among the younger members of the squad as the bizarre story developed this week. But it is another of the Sheffield band’s 1980s hits – The Sound Of The Crowd – which might be more appropriately attached to McInnes’ view of events at Pittodrie tomorrow.
Having seen 40,000 make their way to Celtic Park to back the Dons in the League Cup final, McInnes is intrigued to discover how many will now commit themselves to turning up on a regular basis.
“No-one will be more curious than me to see what our home support will be on Saturday,” added McInnes. “The players deserve a huge turnout and the club are keen for that to be the case. When it comes to our travelling support, it’s the minority that don’t sing. But when it comes to Pittodrie, it’s the minority that do.
“We want to create that away energy at home – but obviously the players can help create that. I am in no way criticising the home support – far from it – because they’ve been absolutely brilliant. It’s about getting the numbers and the atmosphere that we have seen in games like the semi-final and the final and replicating it at Pittodrie. I said when I took the job that I wanted the city to fall in love with the club again and to an extent we have done that. We have got the respect back.
“Aberdeen has always been respected as a club but that alone doesn’t guarantee success. The fact we have this hard-working, honest team has got back the respectability on the pitch. It is about getting that love back – not just fans coming out of a sense of duty. That’s been a pleasing thing but there’s more we can do to get them back on a regular basis.”
McInnes is approaching the first anniversary of his appointment as Aberdeen manager and it has been both a rewarding and cathartic 12 months, helping both him and his assistant Tony Docherty to put the painful disappointment of their sacking by Bristol City behind them.
“It just goes to show that in the life of a manager you are either the king or the clown,” he said. “You win a few games and you lift a trophy then you can’t do anything wrong. You lose a few games and people think you don’t know what you’re doing. The whole job is fickle so you can’t get too carried away.
“You just have to trust how you work and not get carried away when you win and don’t get too down when you lose. Tony and I have always worked well together and have always felt we did a lot right at the clubs we’ve worked for. We felt that the challenge of coming here and trying to change the fortunes of this club was something we wanted to do.
“In all honesty, we’re more pleased for the players than we are for ourselves. The most important thing here isn’t Tony and I being happy. It’s about other people. It’s good to get rewards for them because of how hard they work and it’s good to reward the chairman for trusting us to come in and do the job.
“It has been great to put smiles on the faces of the supporters. There has been a lot of goodwill when I’ve been out and about, which has been great. I really enjoy being here, we’ve tried to give the support a team they can be proud of and I think we’re doing that.”