Derek McInnes believes his Aberdeen players deserve credit, not criticism, for becoming the only credible challengers to Celtic for the Premiership title in the last two seasons.
The Dons visit Perth tonight knowing they need nothing short of a miracle to end a 31-year wait for a championship success.
Celtic enjoy an eight-point advantage over the Pittodrie club after they lost 2-1 to Hearts from a winning position at Tynecastle in their final game before the split.
It wasn’t the first time they had squandered such a promising position, but the Aberdeen manager was annoyed to see his men labelled as “bottlers” in the wake of that setback. McInnes is convinced his players have earned, and deserve, more respect than that for the way they have made Ronny Deila’s side fight for the title.
He said:”The fact I have even been asked about a title challenge these last two years reflects how well the team have done.
“I don’t want to dilute winning a cup. It was so important for us given we had gone so many years without winning one. But any team can win a cup. You can get a bit lucky with the draw and it’s four or five games.
“But all of the teams who have won cups have not had the consistency we’ve shown in these last three years.
“We’ve been sitting in April talking about a title race – and hopefully we still will in May. That deserves credit.
“I’m not looking for praise – but the players do not deserve criticism. It’s something I feel strongly about.
“I hear people saying Rangers now need to spend millions to bridge the gap with Celtic. No one really questions that fact. But at the same time, Rangers have already currently got three times the budget we have, yet we are portrayed as having blown it.
“We’ve been criticised for not sustaining it but we are the one team who has provided the challenge to Celtic this last couple of seasons.
“The players deserve a lot of credit for that. We are really stretching everything out of these boys.
“Yes, there will be times when you look back at games we should have won. I’m not saying we are without criticism.
“The performances in the cups deserve criticism, I get that, because we wanted to do better in those competitions.
“But over a 38-game season, this year and last, we are the side who have picked up the responsibility of trying to put a challenge in.”
Ryan Jack’s injury at Tynecastle has turned out to be not as serious as was first feared and he will captain the side as usual at Perth.
Veteran midfielder Barry Robson is available after serving a two game ban following his dismissal in last month’s defeat at Motherwell.
The game has come too soon for top scorer Adam Rooney who is expected to be fit for the visit of Motherwell next weekend as is Peter Pawlett.
Meanwhile McInnes is hoping right back Shay Logan will accept the offer of a new contract with the club to further reduce the number of changes he needs to make in the summer. He said:”We’ve spoken to Shay and make him an offer. We expect an answer in the next few days to give us a bit of clarity.”
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright is looking to get his transfer business done early this summer.
Wright has held talks with transfer targets in England after previous discussions with Falkirk midfielder Blair Alston, St Mirren full-back Keith Watson and Dundee United midfielder Ryan Dow.
Wright, who already has York midfielder Michael Coulson secured on a pre-contract deal, said: “I was down in England again this week looking at players and talking to one or two.
“People like Blair Alston, we have spoken to his agent and we are waiting for them to get back to us. Fans think you want a player and it happens overnight, but players and agents keep their cards close to their chest and want to keep their options open.
“I have spoken to the chairman (Steve Brown) and we feel we need to invest more in recruitment this year and that’s what he is planning to do.
“Hopefully we can get some fresh faces in and help the squad maintain the standards we have set over the last few years.”
Saints are aiming to get ahead in the race for fourth spot when they host Aberdeen, but there is no chance of a fourth consecutive season in Europe following Celtic’s William Hill Scottish Cup exit.
But Wright does not believe that is all bad. “If we take the attitude that not getting into Europe is a disappointment, there is a positive side to it as well,” he said,
“I think we have struggled this year in terms of injuries, more so than any other year since I’ve been here, even as assistant manager.
“And I think the European experience has possibly caught up on us. We had seven out at the start of the season. Two of them were impact injuries, but we don’t normally pick up many muscle injuries and it’s been a lot this year.
“So we have a longer break, although with the League Cup starting, it’s not as long as normal seasons.
“Work that was meant to be done on the pitch last year we can get done this year.”