A criticism levelled at Aberdeen across much of last season was that they didn’t perform in the big games; they dropped far too many points against Celtic and Rangers and again failed to win either of the cups.
But Dons goalkeeper Joe Lewis insists the mentality of the squad has changed and that the players now relish the sort of fixture that awaits a packed Pittodrie tomorrow lunchtime.
There were hints right at the end of last season that the Aberdeen squad could rise to the big occasion, most notably when they went through their post-split games unbeaten and sealed a fourth consecutive second-place finish in the Premiership by winning at the home of champions Celtic on the final day.
Lewis, pictured, now insists that Thursday night’s gallant defeat by Burnley in the second qualifying round of the Europa League should put any lingering doubts to bed. “We are looking forward to the big games and we have a team that relish that now,” stressed Lewis.
Derek McInnes’s side lost 4-2 on aggregate to Burnley – and, ultimately, are out of European competition before their domestic campaign has even started – but they acquitted themselves incredibly well in both legs. During the second half of Thursday’s 3-1 extra-time reverse at Turf Moor it was the Dons who played with freedom and pressed for victory against the English Premier League club. Lewis was proud of his team-mates.
“There is a lot of pride and encouragement going into the new season,” said the Aberdeen No 1 ahead of tomorrow’s Premiership opener against Steven Gerrard’s Rangers. “We now have a huge game on Sunday. We have to dust ourselves down and go again and we can take a lot of positives and confidence into that game.
“We only took one point off Rangers last season so we need to improve that. The last few games we performed well and we were one of the teams with the best points tally after the split. You finish off the season where you deserve to finish.”
In Lancashire in midweek Aberdeen went toe-to-toe with the big spenders and they’ll have to do likewise this weekend. Rangers have been splashing the cash in a bid to try to put pressure on Celtic in the title race but that doesn’t faze Lewis.
“They’ve spent a lot of money,” added the Englishman. “They spent more money than us, their players will be on bigger wages than us and they will have spent more on transfer fees.
“You can see on Thursday the gulf in what Burnley have compared to us. The last two seasons we have finished ahead of Rangers and we showed we have something that money can’t buy. It is definitely something that has worked. It is a secret and I don’t know what it is.”
Aberdeen fans will be praying that the defensive triangle of Lewis, Michael Devlin and Scott McKenna remains intact beyond the close of the transfer window. McKenna will again be watched by scouts tomorrow but Lewis is confident the centre-half doesn’t have any immediate plans to quit Pittodrie.
“He is a helluva player and I am sure there will be a time when he will go on to bigger things in his career,” he said. “But we are in a good position financially and we don’t need to sell. Also speaking to Scott, he is not in any rush to go anywhere.”