Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes was a man unbowed and unambiguous about his future after his side’s mammoth effort just came up short yesterday.
The classic match that Celtic edged 2-1 in the final seconds through Tom Rogic’s winner marked the end of the Pittodrie team in its current form with Niall McGinn, Ryan Jack and Ash Taylor all expected to move on. McInnes, linked with Sunderland, gave every indication his focus will be on improving on the three second places his team earned behind Celtic.
“They all go out with their heads held high, every one of the ones who are leaving,” he said. “The ones who are remaining will know we are getting good players in the summer. This focus is now on my recruitment team, myself and the board to make sure we get good players in.
“But the days are long gone now of Aberdeen maybe getting to the odd cup final. This is our third cup final in four years, our fourth game at Hampden this year. The club couldn’t even play at Hampden for so many years. We feel this is where we are and this is what we do. We get to cup finals and give ourselves a chance to win. That’s not going to change because a few boys are leaving. We will still crack the whip and get good players in, and we’ll be ready to go again.”
McInnes was rightly proud of a showing that made for a cup final of extraordinary intensity wherein Aberdeen showed a sustained competitive edge that they hadn’t often been able to produce in five previous defeats to Rodgers’ men. They did so through taking a ninth-minute lead courtesy of a Jonny Hayes strike that was cancelled out by Stuart Armstrong’s equaliser two minutes later.
“It felt like two proper teams slugging it out,” McInnes said. “There were chances, both keepers made great saves and good saves and when it’s slugging it out there is sometimes that lucky punch or that killer punch and today I think Rogic produced a bit of class.
“We had to worry Celtic. There’s no way they’ll have felt pressure coming into the game. But they would’ve felt it momentarily when we scored. We had to get the feeling that it might just blow up in their face. We did it for long spells when the game was level.
“I think the players implemented exactly what we wanted to do. We were brave, aggressive, imposed ourselves. But also carried a threat going forward. You can’t keep just putting out fires. We never let Celtic get any real flow or rhythm into their game until the last 20 minutes.
“There was nothing in the game other than we lacked a wee bit of legs and just to keep applying the pressure. Celtic are a good team, good teams find an answer. I’m just gutted for the players, supporters who made a great effort again. But we will be back. I feel we can come back next year here and make it go our way. It is fine lines.”