Hayes: New Firm is the real tie of the weekend

JONNY Hayes hasn’t played at Hampden Park before, thinks the New Firm derby between 
his side Aberdeen and Dundee United is the tie of the weekend and admits always underestimating the number of travelling Dons fans.

Jonny Hayes sits in the Main Stand at Pittodrie with the League Cup trophy that he helped Aberdeen win last season  	Picture: Jeff Holmes
Jonny Hayes sits in the Main Stand at Pittodrie with the League Cup trophy that he helped Aberdeen win last season Picture: Jeff Holmes

However, he would still prefer Saturday’s League Cup semi-final to be played at a smaller stadium to ensure the best possible atmosphere. Hayes still thrills at the memory of the clash with St Johnstone at Tynecastle at the same stage of last year’s competition. All four stands were full at a stadium where a good atmosphere is 
almost guaranteed in any case.

Aberdeen responded in better style than their opponents, perhaps buoyed by their fans heavily outnumbering their 
St Johnstone counterparts. Hayes himself scored twice in a 4-0 victory, his first goal coming after only three minutes. While the difference between supports won’t be quite so marked this weekend, Aberdeen are set to bring as many as 20,000 fans with them to Hampden. Told that as many as 19,000 fans have already purchased tickets for the game, Hayes replied: “So far…” He knows Aberdeen supporters can always be counted upon.

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“We always seem to underestimate how many fans we bring,” he said. “Almost every game since I have been here, we always seem to underestimate. But they have been brilliant this year, home and away.”

While Hampden was always going to be the venue for 
Sunday’s clash between Rangers and Celtic, there was a suggestion when the draw was made back in November that smaller grounds like Easter Road and Tynecastle could have perhaps been considered for the United-Aberdeen semi-final.

“It’s a very difficult ground to fill, Hampden,” considered Hayes. “It would have been nice to have played it at Tynecastle again and have that kind of 
atmosphere. It will be a bit different but we will still have the 
majority of fans roaring us on.”

“The majority of players from both sides would prefer a game where the atmosphere is better rather than having it at a half-empty ground, which doesn’t look right for a semi-final,” he added. “Somewhere like Easter Road or Tynecastle, where two sets of fans with a nice rivalry could be close to each other and make it a good atmosphere.”

Despite the acceptance that Hampden won’t be full for the first of this weekend’s League Cup games, Hayes insists Aberdeen v Dundee United deserves a higher profile than the one that everyone knows will command most of the attention.

In normal circumstance, the dominance of an Old Firm derby would be taken as read. But some expect the currently denuded Rangers will be no match for Celtic, therefore meaning the game should take a back seat to what promises to be a fiercely contested tie between two in-form top-tier teams.

Hayes pointed out that recent games between Aberdeen and United have been passionate and watchable affairs, even if the scoreline in the last two meetings would suggest the victors having taken the spoils with a degree of comfort.

United won the first meeting, on the first day of the new season, 3-0 at Pittodrie. In December Aberdeen travelled to Tannadice and won 2-0. The scorelines were closer last season – one single-goal victory each, one draw and a 3-1 win for Aberdeen on the penultimate weekend of the league campaign.

“Obviously the two SPL teams playing each other should be the tie of the weekend – hopefully we can prove that,” pointed out Hayes. “I know Celtic are a good side but Rangers are from a league below and there might be a bit of a gap. People expect Celtic to win that game comfortably.

“I think ourselves and Dundee United have been quite closely matched over the last 18 months to two years, and there are a lot of people outside are looking forward to the game,” he continued. “There’s been some good football played the last few times we have met – last season as well. A few close games up here and down there and I think it will be close again on Saturday.”

While the game this weekend is occupying everyone’s minds at Pittodrie and is a welcome break from the intensity of a title race, Hayes allowed his mind to wander as far as next season, by which time former Inverness team-mate Graeme Shinnie will have joined him at Aberdeen.

The Pittodrie club announced earlier this week that the left-back has signed a pre-contract deal. Shinnie will this summer bring to an end six years at Inverness, where Hayes believes he has developed into the best left-back in Scottish football.

Indeed, his signing is significant news for Hayes for two reasons; it might end the need for the Irishman to be employed as an auxiliary left-back, while it also gives him a new companion to go to Nando’s with.

Asked about the differences Shinnie can expect after joining a club such as Aberdeen, Hayes replied: “Well I’m sure he likes a Nando’s, like most footballers do – and there’s none of them in Inverness!” Culinary matters out of the way, Hayes added: “There’s a little bit more expectation here with the bigger crowds and a so-called bigger club.

“He’s still a young lad and he has signed a three-year deal so this is a bigger shop window for him. If he wants to go on and win international caps and so on Aberdeen can provide him with a better platform for that. But he’s an Aberdonian so I think he already understands that.

“It’s a great bit of business by the manager,” he added. “He just gets better and better and he will be a great acquisition.”

Dons sign West Brom defender

ABERDEEN have signed defender Donervorn Daniels from West Bromwich Albion until the end of the season.

The 21-year-old – whose deal is still subject to international clearance – goes straight into the Dons squad for their Scottish League Cup semi-final with Dundee United at Hampden on Saturday.

Daniels has already had loan stints at Tranmere Rovers, Gillingham and Blackpool and Pittodrie manager Derek McInnes said he is delighted to secure his services for the season run-in.

McInnes said: “I would like to express our thanks to West Brom for their assistance in getting the deal completed.

“In Donervorn we’ve got a player with a good presence and for who we have a high regard. Hopefully his time with us will be beneficial for both us and Donervorn.”