In what was a novel occurrence, the curse that is normally associated with winning manager of the month baubles struck just prior to the news that Derek McInnes had won the award being made public. On Saturday the Aberdeen manager watched as Ross County swept away some of the optimism encouraged by September’s run of results.
It wasn’t quite one step forward, two steps back. However, McInnes is alert to the need to ensure Aberdeen can add consistency to their list of strengths, though this aim has been undermined by the need to play several youngsters in the absence of injured experienced first-teamers, such as Willo Flood, Niall McGinn and Barry Robson. Flood and McGinn returned on Saturday but could not prevent Aberdeen going down 1-0 in Dingwall. Robson, meanwhile, is due to return to training next week after a knee injury.
With the team currently lying fourth in the Premiership, McInnes might be forgiven for relishing the return to full fitness of players who helped Aberdeen kick off the season in such positive fashion. Exciting young players like Cammy Smith, Ryan Jack and Nicky Low have taken the strain while their elders have recovered and now McInnes expects Aberdeen to add some ballast to their game. He wants the team to learn how to intimidate opponents on a regular basis.
“I remember the Aberdeen teams I played against, and the ones when I was growing up – and there were a lot of good sides after the Alex Ferguson era,” said McInnes.
“Those teams all had that edge, a bit of fear about them. You knew you had to play well against them to get a result. We just need to get that respect back from our competitors, and get that fear again in Scotland.
“Alex Ferguson’s teams had that in Europe, we just want to get it back in Scotland.”
The manager can see evidence that one of his chief objectives is coming to fruition. Aberdeen fans have always been noted for their willingness to travel in large number. McInnes has noticed that the bond between the fans and team has grown stronger throughout the season, even given setbacks such as Saturday.
“The crowds are still there, home and away, they’ve been brilliant,” he said. “We had more than 2000 at Dingwall on Saturday. There is a bit of optimism among them now. And the most important thing is there’s a bond between them and the players.
“That encourages me. We want to be strong at home and the players enjoy playing at Pittodrie. We have to use playing in front of such a big crowd to our advantage.
“It shouldn’t inhibit us or make the players fearful. There’s a good feeling up there at the moment and hopefully the support can help us do well this year.”
Expectation has grown again and, although he is reluctant to make any grand statements about what can be achieved, McInnes understands why supporters might get carried away. However, he also accepts that some performances have served to dampen this enthusiasm.
“That is what it means to be a fan – why shouldn’t they get excited?” he asked. “I am not surprised by that.
“They have seen a couple of games where it would be easy to get excited and they have seen a couple of performances where they might think there is still a lot of work to do. I think we need to strive for the ability to show how good we can be on any given day regardless of the opposition.”
Several pundits predicted in the summer that Aberdeen would finish as runners-up in the league this season. McInnes suggested this was a bold pronouncement given the lesson of recent history.
Rather, his aim is simply to prove that progress is being made. “We are a club who have been outwith the top six for four seasons, so I think it would be foolish for anyone within my club and certainly for me to say we are going to do this and that,” said McInnes.
There is, though, the opportunity to scratch one great itch at Pittodrie and lift a major trophy this season. Aberdeen stormed into the quarter-finals of the League Cup courtesy of a 5-0 away win against Falkirk last month to set up a quarter- final tie against Motherwell at Fir Park.
Again, McInnes is careful about placing too much emphasis on the importance of sating the great thirst for a trophy at Aberdeen. “A lot of good players and managers have come through the door at Aberdeen with the same aspirations as me,” he pointed out. “And it hasn’t happened for them. There is no magic wand. Just because you play or manage Aberdeen doesn’t mean success will come to you.”
However, he conceded that the League Cup offers one of three chances to win something of note. Aberdeen have not lifted a major honour since a 2-0 win over Dundee in the same tournament in 1995.
“It’s at the back of the mind for every manager still in the tournament,” he said. “We are no different and should not have any right to be different to any other manager. We all have the same aspirations and just because we have a good tradition and been successful in the past, it does not matter a jot for where we are now.
“We are the same as every club left in the competition – we all harbour ambitions of having our day and lifting the trophy. We have a tough opponent in Motherwell to get past and I think they see it in the same way – they have a tough opponent to get past.
“Of course the cup competition gives us an avenue to be successful and we have to make the most of it.”
He hopes one day to be sitting at a table clutching a trophy that brings to an end an 18-year hiatus. His first manager of the month award at the club suggests this moment might be getting nearer.