Award winner Paul Hartley wants bigger prize for Aberdeen

ABERDEEN captain Paul Hartley yesterday picked up the Co-operative Insurance Cup player-of-the-round award after his two goals against Falkirk in October's 2-1 quarter-final win helped set up tomorrow's last-four clash with Celtic at Hampden.

But, while admitting that "it's always nice to get awards", the only thought in Hartley's mind right now is making sure the Dons are back at the national stadium for the tournament's final on 20 March.

The midfielder says he's "fed up hearing about the 9-0 game" against Celtic in the league in November and is confident that Aberdeen can cause an upset this weekend and take their place in the League Cup showpiece against either Motherwell or Rangers.

"We're looking forward to it," said Hartley yesterday. "Hopefully it's a good occasion for us. It'll be a tough game but it's a cup game and anything can happen. Celtic have quality players, they're sitting top of the league, but most of the pressure will be on them so who knows? If I didn't think we could beat them then there would be no point in turning up, that's for sure."

The last time Aberdeen were at Hampden for a final was 11 years ago, when they lost 4-0 to Rangers in the Scottish Cup. Ebbe Skovdahl's team also reached the final of the League Cup that year, losing, 2-0 to Celtic, and Hartley knows it's about time the Dons returned to the big stage.

"There is always pressure in these games," he added. "It's a semi-final, we are only one game away from a major final, which the club deserves.

"As captain, hopefully I can settle the younger players' nerves. They should go there and enjoy the occasion and have no fear. Go and play, go and enjoy it. But the only way you enjoy these games is by winning them. You don't want to be losing a semi-final, that's for sure.

"We need to bring our A game to Hampden on Saturday. We need to perform at our best and we might need a little bit of luck. But we're going into the game thinking we can win it - that's the only thought in our heads."

Manager Craig Brown says his team will certainly have to improve greatly upon Wednesday night's performance against Inverness. Aberdeen beat Caley Thistle 2-0 but, while the result may have pleased Brown, the performance did not live up to his expectations.

"I hope the players' minds were on the cup semi-final because if they weren't I can't otherwise explain how bad we were against Inverness," he said.

"We tried desperately before the game to ensure their minds were not on facing Celtic as we emphasised and re-emphasised the importance of the Inverness game to the players.

"However, we can't be too pleased with what we saw. We won't win many games if we play like that."