DEREK McINNES was named Ladbroke’s Manager of the Month for August yesterday – and victory against Celtic at Pittodrie tomorrow would be a significant step towards winning the September prize, too.
The August award was for guiding the Dons to five successive league victories at the start of a league campaign for only the second time in the club’s 112 year history.
Extending that to six against the defending champions would be something even Sir Alex Ferguson and his legendary Aberdeen team of three decades ago failed to achieve.
In fact, it is 30 years since they last won the league title and, more importantly, defeating Celtic in tomorrow’s early kick- off would send a signal that just maybe the current side can end the wait.
Last season’s efforts to mount a serious challenge eventually fell 17 points short, but a significant margin of that deficit was made up by four straight defeats against Ronny Deila’s side.
Overall, McInnes has enjoyed just solitary wins in the league and Scottish Cup against Celtic in nine attempts since replacing Craig Brown as Aberdeen manager and is obviously aware of the importance of this latest meeting.
Victory would give the Dons the chance to move five points clear of Celtic when they make up their game in hand against Hamilton Accies, also at Pittodrie on Tuesday.
Against that background it’s no surprise, given the level of expectation among the supporters, that tickets sold out in record time but, publicly at least, McInnes refuses to read too much into the occasion.
“Win, lose or draw on Saturday, it doesn’t change what we want to do. It won’t derail us,” he claimed. “We just want to make sure we are in the fight as long as we can. We want to be as competitive as we can be for as long as we can be but that goes for every game in the league.
“Naturally, Celtic will be huge favourites for any competition they are involved in but you should never shirk from the challenge of doing the best we can and seeing where that takes us. There are opportunities in the cups – as teams have shown in recent years – but over the league campaign it’s difficult to get ahead of them.
“I see us as better than last season’s squad, but we have still got to improve this year.We can only say it with any real certainty at the end of the season but, yes, I do feel we are stronger this year.”
Statistics back that up as Aberdeen have conceded only one goal in their five league games so far despite dealing with the additional demands of six Europa League qualifying matches.
That reliability at the back is in stark contrast to Celtic’s early- season form in which they have looked vulnerable, particularly late on in matches, and when trying to cope with set-pieces, one of the Dons’ strengths.
Selling Virgil van Dijk to Southampton will hardly help solve the problem as Deila must now integrate Manchester United’s on-loan defender Tyler Blackett and £5.5 million signing Jozo Simunovic into the team.
McInnes has been studying videos of the Croatian stopper brought in from Dinamo Zagreb on transfer deadline day and, despite the loss of someone he rated as the best player in Scotland, the Aberdeen manager doesn’t expect Celtic to be significantly weakened.
“I think Ronny has signed some good players,” he added “If you spend £5.5m on a player, regardless of age, you would expect a level of ability, so I think there will still be a familiarity about Celtic when the teamsheet comes in.
“I think what we’ve got to do is not expect anything other than a strong performance from Celtic. We’ve got to find the answers and not look for Celtic being poor to win the game.
“We’ve got to concentrate on us being good enough to get the job done regardless of what team they play.”