Having firmly established that facing Rangers in Glasgow no longer holds any fears, Niall McGinn believes Aberdeen are now ready to end their long barren run against Celtic at Hampden.
The Dons booked their latest trip to the national stadium in compelling style on Tuesday night with a 2-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final replay win over Rangers at Ibrox.
On the back of their League Cup semi-final victory over Steven Gerrard’s side at Hampden in October and a 1-0 Premiership win in Govan in December, it is the first time Aberdeen have ever beaten Rangers three times in Glasgow in a single season.
Derek McInnes’ men are becoming away-day specialists, currently on a nine-match undefeated sequence on the road which stretches back to November. That run includes last Saturday’s 0-0 league draw at Celtic Park, where they also secured a 1-0 win on the final day of last season.
According to former Celtic winger McGinn, who opened the scoring for Aberdeen on Tuesday night, there is a growing sense that the Pittodrie men are now capable of upsetting the odds in Glasgow against the Scottish champions when it matters most.
It is 27 years since Aberdeen last defeated Celtic at Hampden, Eoin Jess scoring the only goal of a League Cup semi-final, and they have suffered six straight defeats in the subsequent meetings of the clubs in Mount Florida.
That includes losses in three domestic cup finals under McInnes in the last two seasons but McGinn is optimistic they can buck that trend when they face Celtic in next month’s Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden.
“Anything can happen in semi-finals and finals and we’ve had chances to beat Celtic at Hampden before,” said McGinn. “We’ve been closer to them. We’ll worry about the semi-final when it comes around in April but we’re not far away [from beating Celtic]. We know we have to defend well against them and take our chances when they come around.
“Being at a big club like Aberdeen, you enjoy getting to semi-finals and finals. We want to go a step further and win the trophy. We’ve got another opportunity to get to a final and there’s no bigger task than beating Celtic but we will look forward to the challenge when it comes.”
McGinn, who has played for Aberdeen in all three of the cup final defeats by Celtic over the last three seasons, felt the latest triumph over Rangers was a firm indication of the stronger mentality the Dons now possess on the bigger occasions.
“We showed great maturity and composure to put on a performance like we did at Ibrox,” added the 31-year-old. “In my time at Aberdeen, we had won at Ibrox a couple of times before. But having to go there in a replay, on the back of a 1-1 draw at home when we were disappointed at not seeing the game out, made it look like an uphill task for us.
“Even in the last few years, though, that fear factor hasn’t been there against Rangers in Glasgow. We have finished above them in the league and we are also on such a good run on the road this season.”
Now approaching the stage of his career where he is classed as a veteran, McGinn was enthused by the contributions of teenagers Lewis Ferguson, Dean Campbell and second goalscorer Connor McLennan on Tuesday.
“For those young lads, and also Max Lowe and Dom Ball, to play like that in front of a packed house at Ibrox is a great learning curve for them,” said the Northern Ireland international.
“For us older guys to see that, it is great for Aberdeen in the future. They will always remember nights like Tuesday and take confidence from that.
“We knew we’d have to take our chances in the game and it was great to score as early as I did. I managed to read the pass [Glen Kamara made for Rangers] and took it well. The second goal from Connor in the second half gave us a bit of a cushion to see the game out.
“Rangers threw everything at us but we were solid throughout our team, from Stevie May leading the line all the way back to Joe Lewis in goal.
“It was a great performance but we have to put the Scottish Cup on the back burner now and get back to winning ways in the league at home to Livingston on Saturday.”