Aberdeen prepare to shoulder burden of history

Dejection for Zander Diamond, left, and Jamie Langfield after losing 4'0 to Celtic. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Dejection for Zander Diamond, left, and Jamie Langfield after losing 4'0 to Celtic. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
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Derek McInnes has challenged his Aberdeen players to create history against St Johnstone instead of being intimidated by it.

The Dons are looking to win their first semi-final since goals from Arild Stavrum and Andy Dow beat Hibs in the Scottish Cup 14 years ago.

Since then they have failed five times at the last-four stage of the major knockout competitions. In the past six years the Dons have lost three Scottish Cup semi-finals (4-3 to Queen of the South in 2008, 4-0 to Celtic in 2011 and 2-1 to Hibs in 2012) and two League Cup semi-finals (4-1 to Dundee United in 2008 and 4-1 to Celtic in 2011).

Now they are red-hot favourites not only to end that wait for a semi-final victory but also to lift a first trophy since 1995 with Caley Thistle or Hearts as opponents in the final.

It’s a reflection of how far the Pittodrie club have progressed under McInnes that they are on track for their best season in two decades. They go into the League Cup semi-final in second place in the league with a Scottish Cup tie at Celtic Park to look forward to on Saturday week.

These are exciting times for the success-starved supporters, with 12,000 of them heading to Tynecastle this weekend. But the Aberdeen manager remains determined to protect his players from the expectation levels.

McInnes said: “It has gone better than maybe most have anticipated as we are still in both cups and at least we have the chance to do something.

“We still have it all to do though and we want to just play the game, not the occasion.

“We can’t get too concerned with what has happened previously and we are stressing that to the players. It’s just a case of backing ourselves on the day to put in a good performance and if it’s good enough we will have a chance to win the match.

“But St Johnstone will be saying the same thing as it’s a great opportunity for them as well and it’s always a tough match with them.

“The players have given themselves the chance to be successful and try to go to that next stage in a cup. We have got ourselves in the mix, we have got ourselves in the fight but we haven’t won anything yet.”

Aberdeen have never lost to St Johnstone in either the Scottish Cup or League Cup and McInnes is hoping his former club’s misfortune continues.

He was on the losing side in five semi-finals during his time as player and manager with the Perth outfit. Of course McInnes steered St Johnstone back to the top flight and was a major influence in them staying there. He also guided Stevie May in his formative years at McDiarmid Park and knows continuing the striker’s run of never scoring in six games against Aberdeen will be crucial to the outcome.

He said: “There is a familiarity to it all as we have already played each other a couple of times. I’ve seen St Johnstone a few times as well and they are a good side and a tough nut to crack at times.

“They have got good pros and they’ve got a boy playing up top at the minute who is scoring goals for fun and playing at the top of his game.

“I don’t know if anyone would have envisaged the season he was having and, if he continues in the same vein of form, he’s on course for 30 goals.”

There is one St Johnstone player who knows precisely how much pressure is building day by day on Aberdeen players.

Gary McDonald spent two years at Aberdeen – between 2008 and 2010 – and he has felt the weight of history bearing down on players in red. McDonald was a member of Mark McGhee’s team which suffered a last-16 Scottish Cup defeat by Raith Rovers four years ago.

“I never quite got as far as a semi-final up there,” said the 31-year-old Saints midfielder. “The cup runs just never materialised for us, which has been the case for the last few years at Aberdeen.

“That tie was one we were expected to win and then go on in the competition. You could feel the expectation in the area. It grows and, as a player, you are aware of it.

“Once you cross the line as a player it shouldn’t really be a factor. You should just go about your business as usual.”

With the Aberdeen fans snapping up their ticket allocation weeks ago within hours of them going on sale, McDonald knows they have another trip south for the 16 March final pencilled in.

“We knew when the draw was made that their fans would outnumber ours,” he added.

“They will be coming down looking at it as a game which they should be winning. On paper they are favourites but I think being underdogs can work in our favour. It’s a good position to be in.

“Having been at the club I know what the expectations will be like up there going into the game. It is a semi-final so it’s a one-off game and what matters is what happens on the day. It will come down to who wants it the most and whose players play to their capabilities.”