Derek McInnes believes his players have been denied the credit due for becoming the first Aberdeen team in 20 years to mount a title challenge by people labouring under the misapprehension that the squad was assembled with the second highest budget in the Scottish Premiership.
The Dons manager has steered the club to their only trophy and highest league finish in two decades and now the aim is to beat Ross County today and keep the pressure on Celtic at the top again this season.
McInnes was frustrated to see his team eliminated from the Scottish Cup by Hearts last weekend, the third successive time they have fallen at the first hurdle in domestic knockout competitions.
He accepts that’s simply not good enough at a club with renewed expectations since he replaced Craig Brown nearly three years ago, but insists the current pool of players are under more pressure than any in their recent history.
In particular the Aberdeen manager feels their achievements have been undervalued by those who wrongly think only Celtic players are on higher salaries in the top flight than those at Pittodrie.
He said: “There have been Aberdeen teams here over the last 20 years that have had the same objectives and the same demand on them to win cups.
“I don’t think there has been the same objective to win leagues, or challenge for leagues.
“We’re getting asked the question about challenging for the title. I was still getting asked about challenging for the title in March, April last season. That’s something that Aberdeen teams haven’t had.
“It needs to be said as well that it’s as if it’s just dismissed as: ‘Oh, Aberdeen have got the second biggest budget by far.’ That isn’t the case.
“I’m not here to talk about others, but other clubs pay more. I know of at least three clubs that pay more than my players earn. That’s a fact.
“We’ve got a small squad, we make the most of what we’ve got, we’ve got a competitive squad that gives us a chance.
“And for us still to be competing with Celtic last season with four games to go before they won the league, and for us to be so close to them this season, my squad deserves credit for that.
“But we want more and I’m expecting more. They’ve always had expectations of winning cups – even when the team wasn’t good enough. We all recognise – I recognise – that my team is good enough to win a cup.
“We’ve won one, we want to win more. And that’s where the criticism and extreme disappointment compounds it even more. We can all say we want to win a cup but if you’ve not got the team to win one then it’s shallow, it doesn’t mean anything – but we have got the team to win a cup. That’s why we were extremely disappointed to go out to Hearts.”
Aberdeen lost their next three league games after being knocked out of the League Cup by Hibs at Easter Road back in September.
That run, which in total reached six matches without a win, included a 2-0 defeat at Dingwall but McInnes is confident history won’t repeat itself at lunchtime today.
An impressive second-half comeback to win 3-1 against Ross County at Pittodrie last month was a key factor in their current eight-game unbeaten league run.
McInnes expects to extend that to nine today and added: “We had a poor, poor record against Ross County prior to us coming in. We’ve actually had a good record against them over the last couple of seasons, other than losing to them up there earlier in the season.
“We’re not there as firm favourites for the game, though a lot expect us to win games home and away. But we’re ahead of them in the league and we’ve shown enough consistency over the last couple of seasons to be tagged as favourites.
“We probably have that in most games other than when we play Celtic but anybody who watched the last game up there would say we’re up against a formidable opponent.”