IT IS a mark of the implausible standards set by Sir Alex Ferguson that Willie Miller’s time as Aberdeen manager is regarded as a failure.
Two consecutive second-place league finishes and two domestic cup final appearances were not enough to spare the Pittodrie club’s greatest ever captain from dismissal in the mid-1990s as the flood of silverware won under Ferguson slowed to a trickle.
Since Miller’s successor, Roy Aitken, guided the Dons to League Cup triumph in November 1995, it has dried up completely.
There have been so many disappointments for Aberdeen supporters since then that it would perhaps be wise for them to remain cautious about the prospect of the barren period finally coming to an end this season under the impressive leadership of Derek McInnes.
But Miller believes confidence in McInnes is fully merited as Aberdeen target a domestic cup double following a memorable eight-day spell which saw them crush St Johnstone 4-0 to book a League Cup final place against Inverness, then eliminate Scottish Cup holders Celtic 2-1 in Glasgow on Saturday to reach the quarter-finals of the showpiece tournament.
“I thought Aberdeen would have a good season but it’s heading towards being a fabulous season,” said Miller. “Derek is shrewd enough to know there is a long way to go before two cups are lifted, but that wouldn’t be a bad first full season for him, would it?
“I think Aberdeen should be favourites for both cups now. I suppose the case for Rangers in the Scottish Cup will be getting put forward, because they had a very good victory over Dunfermline the other night and they’ll be confident of doing well.
“But it’s difficult to make lower division teams favourites to win the Scottish Cup! Seriously, no disrespect to any other team still in the competition, but Aberdeen have got the cocktail right. They’ve got the mix right, with bags of experience and a bit of youth about their team as well.
“At the start of the season, I thought the players Derek had brought in, Willo Flood and Barry Robson, were class signings. If you ally that to the players he inherited, like Jamie Langfield, Mark Reynolds and Russell Anderson, it was impressive.
“My only worry about Russell was his injury problems but he got his hip so high to score at Parkhead on Saturday that the fears of any future injury problems seem to be allayed.
“So, when you add Adam Rooney to the mix and not forgetting two very bright young talents in Peter Pawlett – now playing a man’s role in the team – and Ryan Jack, who is unfortunately out injured, that led me to believe it was going to be good season for Aberdeen and it has certainly turned out to be a good week.
“They’ve come out on top and been fabulous in the way they dismantled St Johnstone and then handled the things you’ve got to handle at Parkhead.
“Derek is a good manager and he has handled it extremely well. The way he communicates to the nation and to the Aberdeen fans is first class and I think he’s got the right players. Getting Robson and Flood were vital to my mind, and getting Rooney in will be a fabulous signing for them.
“Derek now has to handle extra expectation but I think he’ll do that. He’s been absolutely magnificent for the club.”
McInnes has been widely credited with improving the mentality of the Aberdeen squad and Miller believes that was underlined by the win over St Johnstone which took the club into their first major final since 2000.
“It is psychological,” added Miller. “We go on about long-suffering Aberdeen fans and they’ve been long suffering because they’ve been in so many semi-finals but not being able to get over that hurdle and into a final. That was a major barrier until the game at Tynecastle when they made that leap and got themselves into a final and gave themselves a chance of winning a trophy.
“That helped them going into the match against Celtic. They handled that game with maturity and confidence. To be honest, in the first 20 minutes I thought they were really poor. They gave away silly free-kicks, weren’t keeping the ball and the possession wasn’t good.
“But, thereafter, they handled everything Celtic could throw at them – although I must say Celtic didn’t throw enough at them in the game. That’s reflected in what Neil Lennon said afterwards, but take nothing away from Aberdeen. It was a good, all- round mature performance and when you have that maturity and the energy of a Peter Pawlett in midfield, it’s not a bad blend.”
Miller takes particular satisfaction from the current form of Pawlett, who scored the winner at Celtic Park, having seen the talented 23-year-old come through the ranks during his spell as director of football at Aberdeen before his departure in the summer of 2012.
“Having watched both Peter and Ryan Jack from a very early age and watching them develop, it gives me a lot of pleasure,” said Miller. “Peter has had hard stages to come through. He had the diving question mark over him and was playing with a bit of immaturity at times, but he’s now matured into the man we thought he was capable of being.
“To get two goals in such important games this week, and particularly the way he took the goal against Celtic, was so vital to the club.
“It’s good to see when you put that much effort and thought process into developing your own players that you get that reward because on too many occasions at Aberdeen they haven’t been able to keep a hold of the players.
“You look at Jack Grimmer, Fraser Fyvie and Ryan Fraser – we’ve lost them before we’ve really seen them playing. It’s good to have Peter there, perhaps showing them the error of their ways.”
Miller also feels Pawlett’s displays have vindicated his belief Aberdeen’s emerging talent is superior to that at Dundee United which has received so much praise. “I sat quietly for most of this season, listening to all the plaudits going to the Dundee United youngsters and thinking ‘Have I got this wrong?’,” added Miller. “But, quite frankly, I haven’t got it wrong.
“I wouldn’t swap Peter or Ryan for any other young player in Scotland. I think both of them can go very far.
“Obviously Ryan is out injured just now but Pawlett, with that strength and pace – and at the highest level of football, pace is very important – is a midfield player who is putting the finishing touch to all his good play.
“Watching him develop, Peter could always get into these positions but, invariably, didn’t put the ball in the back of the net. But now he is scoring goals. I think the sky’s the limit for him. I’m sure Derek won’t enjoy me saying it, but I’m sure there are other clubs looking at Peter.”