A first Aberdeen league win in 12 years at Parkhead today could seem like a pretty meaningless victory in the circumstances but Graeme Shinnie believes it would serve as a significant statement about their intention to remain Celtic’s main challengers again next season, writes Scott Davie.
Someone equally at home in defence as in midfield during an outstanding first season at Pittodrie had just started secondary school when John Stewart’s last-minute goal gave the Dons their last league success there in October 2004.
Aberdeen haven’t even managed a single point in 21 visits since but they have been responsible for two of the three Premiership defeats inflicted on Ronny Deila’s side this season.
That’s one reason why they are certain to finish this campaign a lot closer than the 17 points that separated the teams a year ago, even if three successive away defeats finally ended all hope of a first title in 31 years.
Now with Hearts growing in strength and Rangers back in the top flight next season, Shinnie is determined to at least cut Celtic’s lead to six points with a win today.
That would make it the first time they had won three league games against Celtic in a single season since 1990/91, when Alex Smith’s Aberdeen side lost the title to Rangers on the last day at Ibrox.
More importantly for Shinnie and the current generation of players at Pittodrie it would put down a marker for the future. He said: “We’ve beaten them twice at Pittodrie but this is a real chance to take something off them in the league at Celtic Park as it’s a long time since that happened.
“It’s a big game for us because there is a pressure for us to prove that we can take points off them down in Glasgow as well.
“The manager is always looking for improvement from the team and there has certainly been that after losing all four games against Celtic last season. The next step is to repeat the successes we’ve had at home down in Glasgow as an indication of what we can do next season.
“We have got players that can hurt them in areas and it’s just about turning up on the day and performing to the best of our ability.
“Of course it will always be the talk that Rangers will be their main challengers next time now they’re back but it won’t bother anyone at Aberdeen.
“We are happy to go under the radar as all we can do is improve ourselves and I’m sure we will be back winning harder than ever next time.”
It will be another short summer break for someone shrewdly signed by manager Derek McInnes under freedom of contract after captaining Inverness Caledonian Thistle to Scottish Cup final success a year ago.
Shinnie missed out on a holiday because of the upheaval of relocating to Aberdeen and the need to report back early to prepare for Europa League qualifiers, but he’s certainly shown no signs of fatigue 11 months on.
He has started all 43 games for the Dons so far this season and after a four-week break will be raring to go again when their European campaign starts on 30 June after a memorable first season.
“It’s been a good first season from the Europa League campaign onwards and the only disappointment was we didn’t make the group stage of that,” he added.
“I thought that we were better than the team that put us out of the competition [Kairat Almaty] but that was really enjoyable and something to build on next time.
“Then we set a new club record by winning our first eight league games which was a great achievement.
“Going out of the cups early was disappointing but our league form has generally been good and we are on track for another record points tally.
“There’s no doubt that it’s been frustrating not to take the chances we have had to put more pressure on Celtic.
“But with them still to mathematically clinch the title with three games to go is a good achievement to build on next season.
“We are striving to keep the pressure on and push regularly for the title now as I remember coming here with Inverness not that long ago looking to win comfortably.
“Those days have gone now with the way the manager has got the team going from strength to strength and improving every season.
“He has already pointed out the areas we need to boost next season and I’m sure he will be working at that to make us as consistent as possible.
“The home form has been great as we have only lost once at Pittodrie all season and we need teams fearing to come here.
“In recent weeks our away form hasn’t been as good as it could be but we will be determined to put that right next season.”