Dons keeper: Cup matters more than Rangers game

Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis is focused on tonight's game, not Sunday's league fixture against Rangers.Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis is focused on tonight's game, not Sunday's league fixture against Rangers.
Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis is focused on tonight's game, not Sunday's league fixture against Rangers.
Joe Lewis has had a crash course in just how imperative an Aberdeen win is when Rangers come to town for the first time in five years this Sunday but the goalkeeper is determined to stay focused on victory against St Johnstone first.

Dons manager Derek McInnes has made it clear that progress in the Betfred Cup is much more significant than a league win against his former club this weekend and his goalkeeper is certainly on message.

The former England U21 international can’t claim the same for the supporters he’s met in the build-up to this fixture, coming as it does just three days before Rangers visit Pittodrie for the first time since October 2011.

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That’s a fixture that has been mired in controversy on and off the park down the years and the Aberdeen supporters haven’t missed a chance to educate their recent arrival about the significance of victory this weekend. But if that match is proving to be a distraction for the fans, Lewis already has personal experience of why he and the players have to concentrate on the task at Pittodrie tonight.

Aberdeen thumped St Johnstone 4-0 in the semi final two years ago on the way to lifting the League Cup but the Perth club have lost just once in the last seven games between the pair. Those include a bruising goalless draw at McDiarmid Park when Lewis made his league debut for the Dons on the opening day of the season, which is why he said:“I think it’s important we focus.

“Everyone knows how big Sunday is and that will take care of itself – all the fans you come across in town speak about the Rangers game but we need to make sure we’re all focused on Thursday.

“We’ve just got to make sure that we’re at it because we’re facing a team in decent form. Seeing how St Johnstone have done this season, looking back we got a decent point there on the opening day. We must make sure we can put in a performance to get into the semi-final.”

Lewis is reminded of Aberdeen’s past glories every time he walks into Pittodrie and the goalkeeper is determined to literally put himself in the frame to inspire future generations by winning this season’s Betfred Cup.

The walls are festooned with pictures of Aberdeen players and supporters celebrating the various trophies won down the years including the most recent, the League Cup won after defeating Inverness Caley Thistle on penalties in the 2014 final.

That was the first piece of silverware the Dons had collected in 19 years and more than 80,000 supporters lined Union Street for the parade in the aftermath of that success, something Lewis is desperate to experience for himself.

So far the closest the goalkeeper has come to success was Peterborough United’s promotion to the Championship via the play-offs back in 2011 but injury intervened at the most cruel of times.

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Lewis, who played 54 times for the club during that season, was denied the chance of playing in the final at Old Trafford against Huddersfield Town.But an appearance at Hampden Park on 27 November, and subsequently his picture on the wall celebrating victory, would more than make amends.

“I got injured in the semi-final first leg against MK Dons – I broke my kneecap – so I missed that big occasion,” Lewis revealed. “I’ve played in other big games but to get to a cup final and to win it would be fantastic.

“Everyone wants to win trophies and you can see the photos around the stadium of when the club won that trophy a couple of years ago. It’s something I want to be part and something I want to achieve at the club is to win silverware.

“It is definitely part of coming to a club like Aberdeen: you’ve got that expectation.

“When I spoke to the manager before I signed for the club he said: ‘There’s an expectation to do well when you come to a club like Aberdeen to win cups.’

“It is there from the club and the city to do well and the pressure that comes with that, and that is something that drew me to the club really.”