The odds already stacked against Derek McInnes and his Aberdeen players ahead of the Betfred Cup Final drifted even further at the weekend as they slumped to a dismal 3-0 league defeat at Motherwell.
Few punters are likely to be availing themselves of the generous prices now on offer for the Pittodrie club to end Celtic’s vice-like dominance of Scottish football at Hampden next Sunday.
But McInnes hasn’t wasted any time in trying to turn one the biggest negatives in his season so far into a positive. The Aberdeen manager will attempt to harness the widespread dismissal of his team’s chances into a source of inspiration.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of people didn’t think we had much of a chance in the final even before we lost on Saturday,” said McInnes, pictured.
“Now I’m sure a lot more people will be thinking we don’t have a real opportunity to win. But nobody within our camp will be feeling that. We feel we’ve got a chance. We’ve beaten a lot of good teams to get here – and we’re going to have to beat another very good team.
“We’ve got to remind ourselves that every other club, every other manager in Scotland, every other set of players and fans, would love the opportunity we’ve got this week, to be preparing for a cup final against Celtic.
‘We will look forward to it, we’ll have plenty of enthusiasm, embrace it – and try to maximise the opportunity we’ve got.
“I don’t want to dwell too much on Saturday, clearly. But I don’t think it will affect us too much going into this weekend. The excitement and anticipation of a cup final is always going to be there, regardless of how we did on Saturday.
“Would I have preferred to win the game at Motherwell? Yes. For obvious reasons. But we went into that game on good form and sometimes, like a lot of clubs, our performances after an international break haven’t been so pleasing. It doesn’t affect our preparation.
“You always look for any motivation. But the motivation to win trophies at Aberdeen has always been there. When I look back to the first League Cup final, when we won in my first year, that was a trophy that we just had to win.
“The weight of expectation was on everybody, especially myself, for that one. I still feel the weight of expectation, even though it’s our fourth final in a short period of time.
“So the opportunity to get into finals, I’m proud that different squads I’ve had have managed to get the club into this position. I’m proud of the current team, putting themselves in a position for this one.
“The motivation for an Aberdeen player or manager should always be to win trophies. That’s exactly where we are. We don’t expect to be the favourites against the Old Firm, especially cup finals in Glasgow. But we know we can deliver. We’re playing against a bigger squad, a better squad, a bigger club in Celtic. But we can deliver a bigger performance on the day – and win the trophy.”
One of the biggest threats to McInnes’ ambition will be in-form Celtic playmaker Ryan Christie who flourished during 18 months on loan at Aberdeen. His recent success with the Scottish champions and for Scotland has come as no surprise to the Dons boss.
“The finals we played in against Celtic, Ryan couldn’t be involved in,” reflected McInnes. “For the big meaningful games against Celtic we had one of our big players unavailable. He was a big player for me and he’s become a big player for Celtic and Scotland over the last few games.
“Sometimes coaches and managers can take too much credit for players. For me, Ryan deserves the credit. He’s grasped his opportunity at Celtic when it didn’t look like it was coming. He’s in good company with a good squad of players, but he’s doing now what he was doing for me.
“I’d say it’s being recognised more, because he’s doing it for Celtic and he’s doing it in Europe. He’s done it for Scotland now as well.
“So Ryan deserves the most credit. He had to prove himself all over again at Celtic and probably felt for long periods he was on his way out. He’s secured a new contract there and he is up and running with his career at Celtic.
“A Celtic team always has those attacking threats. One or two are in a rich vein of form, especially the ones involved with Scotland. The Celtic players were quite prominent in the attacking areas.
“Every time we’ve played them, they’ve had good attacking threats. I don’t think you can worry or fret too much about it. It’s important we recognise their threats, deal with it, but impose ourselves on the game as well.”