THE euphoria surrounding the rejuvenation of Aberdeen in their most successful season in 24 years was tempered by yesterday’s semi-final humbling at the hands of St Johnstone.
The favourites already had the League Cup in their possession and seemed certain to haul themselves into a Scottish Cup showdown with Dundee United after Niall McGinn gave them a 15th-minute lead at Ibrox.
Chances to strengthen that position were wasted and Stevie May’s second-half double stunned the 16,000 strong Aberdeen support. Both they and the players were forced to make a long, sombre trip back up north, the one solace being the fact that this was a rare downer in an otherwise outstanding campaign in which the former Scottish football heavyweights have made a long-awaited return to glory.
“At the beginning of the season if you’d offered us a trophy and to finish second we’d have chopped your hand off for it,” said McGinn after the match. “We’ve done so well and there was so much confidence that once we’d gotten the first cup we wanted to go and take this one as well.”
They might have had the chance if they had managed to take the numerous openings that came their way when the game was poised at 1-0 and then 1-1.
Even McGinn, having stayed cool to roll the opener past Alan Mannus, passed up an excellent opportunity with just under 20 minutes remaining, the attacker heading wide after getting on the end of Barry Robson’s cross.
“It was a great ball across,” reflected McGinn. “I just caught a little of the light in my eye as I looked up. Still, I should have scored. I felt we created the better chances on the day. St Johnstone were clinical and we’ve got to wish them all the best. It was the same in the last semi-final where it wasn’t a 4-0 game, we were just more clinical. [This time] they were more clinical than us.”
There will be no time to dwell on what could have been. The defeated players will have five days before they are in action once again, taking on Inverness in the first of five crucial top-six encounters in the race for second place. The three-pronged charge may have just been cut by one, but the players remain focused on securing two of their three objectives.
“We want to get back into action as quickly as possible,” added McGinn. “The confidence will still be high in the team. We’ve got a number of big characters in the changing room and players with lots of ability. The games are coming thick and fast and we’re lucky that we’re in a position where we’re still fighting for something.”
By chasing success across the board Aberdeen put themselves into a position in which every game was vital and defeat was not an option. However, any notion that the continued intensity and narrow margin for error directly contributed to yesterday’s defeat was dismissed by the man leading the assault.
“I’m comfortable with the level of expectation,” said manager Derek McInnes. “That’s not what beat us. The club is expected to achieve a certain level of success. The players have dealt with that all season.
“We’re going to have to dig deep and be ready for Inverness. These boys have always responded in the right way.
“We’ve not had too many disappointing results, but when we have there has always been that response from them.
“I congratulate St Johnstone on the win. They showed the determination and tenacity required to win the game.”