Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke believes that Aberdeen will be under intense pressure when they visit Rugby Park for tonight’s Scottish Cup quarter-final replay, claiming the Dons’ season will effectively be over should they lose.
Derek McInnes’ side has won on each of their last seven trips to Ayrshire but they have now gone four games without a win, falling five points behind second-placed Rangers.
They lost to Celtic in the final of both major domestic competitions while also finishing runners-up to them in the Premiership in 2016-17 but, in spite of McInnes subsequently rejecting overtures from Sunderland and Rangers, their campaign is in danger of unravelling.
“There will be a little bit more pressure on Aberdeen than us because their season rests on a good cup run,” said Clarke.
“When you look at the comments coming from Aberdeen, they’re talking about winning the cup and, if you say that, you put more pressure on yourselves. We’re only talking about trying to get to a semi-final and trying to beat Aberdeen in a replay. If Aberdeen go out, having been drawn against Kilmarnock at home in a quarter-final, they’ll be disappointed.
“If we go out having drawn Aberdeen away, we’ll be sad but we’ll move on. Our season is going well. If we finish top six, having been where we were, it’ll be a good achievement.
“We have already had a good season but Aberdeen’s could be defined by how well they do in the Scottish Cup. Maybe Derek will say different but I think there’s a little bit more pressure on them.”
Aberdeen were the last visitors to come out on top, but Kilmarnock have won nine of their ten home games since then and, if Clarke’s side prevail tonight then, in the space of five months, he will have racked up more victories against top-tier opposition at Rugby Park (nine) than his three predecessors, Lee McCulloch (1), Lee Clark (4) and Gary Locke (3) combined.
Clarke has been granted messianic status by the club’s long-suffering support and veteran midfielder Gary Dicker has been just as impressed by the impact the 54-year-old has made.
“Our home record had been a disaster ever since I’d been here so the transformation has been great,” he said.
“There’s not one thing you can put your finger on as the reason for that – it’s belief more than anything. We’re well organised and we’re working hard. I’m not saying we weren’t before but now we’re working smart as well.
“You can tell that the manager has great experience. He has a little rant and a rave when he needs to but he’s mainly a great calming influence, especially on the young boys. I keep telling the youngsters to soak up as much knowledge from him as they can and enjoy every minute of working with him because they might never get a chance to work with anyone else as good.
“We’re quite lucky to have the chance to work with someone who’s already worked with some of the best players and managers in the world. And people forget his playing career – you don’t spend that length of time at Chelsea by being average. He’s got a bit of everything.
“You have to give him and his assistant, Alex Dyer, so much credit for what’s happened here. They’ve been brilliant – they say that opposites attract and they rub against each other really well.”
The last time Kilmarnock reached the semi-finals of the competition was in 1997, when Bobby Williamson’s team went on to lift the trophy, but Dicker, pictured, is not one to look for omens.
“I’m sure [cup-winning captain] Ray Montgomerie will tell us about that again but that’s all in the past,” he said. “People can look at records, but the important thing to realise is these chances don’t come around often.
“You’d imagine the team that won it in 1997 would have fancied their chances of retaining it the following season but here we are, 21 years later, trying to get to the semis for the first time since then.”
Northern Ireland winger Jordan Jones has a 50-50 chance of being involved after recovering from a hamstring injury.