Graeme Shinnie admits it’s weird seeing Aberdeen start the weekend in the bottom half of the Premiership but the Pittodrie club’s captain expects normal service to be resumed by the time the next one rolls around.
Since making the move from Inverness Caledonian Thistle three years ago the midfielder has become accustomed to being part of a side who have established themselves as Celtic’s main rivals in the league.
Now they head for Rugby Park at lunchtime in eighth place with the lowest points tally after the first ten league games of any of the six seasons since Derek McInnes replaced Craig Brown as manager.
Not that Shinnie is unduly concerned as victories today and at home to Hibernian on Friday night can complete a transformation of fortune started when teenager Lewis Ferguson’s winner against Rangers last Sunday propelled them into next month’s Betfred Cup final.
That will be the third time they have met Celtic in the last five national finals and is a much better indicator of how the season in general is shaping up as far as their skipper is concerned, a theory given added credence as he scored in the 3-0 midweek win against Hamilton Accies. However, someone who hopes to spend the international break helping Scotland win their UEFA Nations League group wants to leave Aberdeen in less surreal surroundings in their own division.
“It was weird as we came off the park against Hamilton having won 3-0 and someone said to me ‘we’re still in eighth place’,” admits Shinnie. “When you hear that it sounds strange and I don’t think I’ve ever been in eighth place since I got here.
“You automatically think when you see where we are in the table that it’s not a great position but we’re only two wins away from Killie in third, so if we can win there on Sunday and gain three points on them that has to be our target as we want to go on to overtake them.
“It was hard to get a proper run but now the gaffer has most of the squad to pick from, it sets us up well to put a string of wins together. Even Celtic have needed that this season as we saw when we played them down there.
“We had a really good chance in that game and the loss was frustrating, when we deserved at least a draw, but they were in a sticky position the same as we were at that point and not hitting the heights they’re used to. They’ve obviously found their momentum recently and we’re similar as we need to put wins together. I said before last Sunday’s cup semi-final that a win against Rangers could be a springboard for us to get on a good run.”
Recent history in this afternoon’s fixture certainly suggests Aberdeen are capable of extending that run as Kilmarnock’s win at Pittodrie in September was their first in 21 attempts against Aberdeen.
Even then it came against a team playing with ten men for 85 minutes after Mikey Devlin was controversially sent off, and while the Dons might not like Rugby Park’s plastic pitch they’ve won all eight league games and a Scottish Cup tie there since McInnes took charge.
Despite that, Shinnie admits Kilmarnock are a much tougher proposition under Steve Clarke, so much so that the Scotland international is convinced they are a major threat to Aberdeen securing a fifth successive runners-up spot in the Premiership.
“We have to see them as that especially when you look at what they did last season and how they’ve carried it on,” he added. “They’ll be a team who’s there to stay though, as it’s not just a good start, and I think they’ll be up there challenging.
“They were very good against us, albeit we went down to ten men. That doesn’t mean much though, we went down to ten against Rangers and still played well.
“I don’t like the astro pitches personally, but with the number of them in the league, you have to get used to them and deal with them.
“We’ve done that well over the years at Kilmarnock, we’ve dealt with their pitch so it’s nothing that’ll pose a problem for us. The players in their team will give us more to worry about than the pitch.”