Derek McInnes is the latest man charged with keeping hope flourishing beyond Christmas. Appointed last season, he was able to suss things out behind the scenes before taking charge for the final five games. The fact the Dons were unbeaten in the run-in has prompted fans to abandon cynicism and dare to believe once again. The fact that the results in that run-in still weren’t deemed good enough by McInnes suggests their faith may not be misplaced.
“We were OK, but that’s the problem, we were just OK,” says the former St Johnstone and Bristol City manager. “I expect better than OK. I never really felt convinced we would win but I also never really felt like we would lose. The problem we had last year was not enough goals, so we had too many draws. We need to turn those draws into three points. From the outside looking in, the league was very tight last season and getting a win could move a team up several places, a draw could see you drop down. Teams like St Johnstone put together a good run of wins and they were pretty consistent throughout the rest of the season and that’s why they finished where they did and qualified for Europe. We have to be setting ourselves similar goals.”
Making full use of the final few games to evaluate the players he had inherited, McInnes allowed a number of players to leave in the close season. Some decisions were easier than others, he says, but in their place he has enlisted players he fully believes in to complement those who survived the cull.
Mentality is a massive part of what attracts McInnes to a player and he feels that is key to turning fortunes around at Pittodrie. Having spent time with them at Dundee United he knows that guys such as Barry Robson and Willo Flood have the winning mentality in abundance. He knows that their focus will be right every day in training and for 90 minutes of every match and he hopes that their attitude percolates in the dressing room and serves as an example to others. They also bring the experience which will help elicit the best from promising youngsters such as Ryan Jack.
Gregg Wylde, says McInnes, can bring pace and balance to the team and the added goal threat is provided by 28-year-old Calvin Zola, while young Lawrence Shankland is one for the future. Combined with his pick of the players who threatened but couldn’t quite deliver last year, he is happy with the men he must rely on, starting against Kilmarnock on Saturday.
“I believe we have a good squad. I believe it’s more balanced and while the numbers are tight, I don’t think we are that different from most clubs in the league in that regard.
“But if we can play consistently to the levels I know these players are capable of then we will be good enough to have a decent campaign, but I don’t want everyone getting carried away. I have heard what people are saying about us maybe finishing second but as a club, we have been here before. We can’t pay too much attention to what others are saying, we need to show signs of progress and signs of sustainable success. No one else wins us games, we have to do that for ourselves and if we can do that then maybe this could be a special season.”
McInnes, though, wants sustainable success, not a flash in the pan, but he isn’t naïve. He knows that no manager has limitless time to fulfil long-term goals, not unless he can deliver the short-term success that keeps the hopes of the fans alive.