An Aberdeen victory over Celtic later today would have a two-pronged effect for Derek McInnes’ men: it would underline their status as genuine title contenders as they would go level on points with the reigning champions at the halfway point of the season, and it would grant them some cathartic revenge for the heartbreak they experienced against the same side earlier this month.
The underdogs gave it their all on the Hampden turf but ultimately couldn’t stop a first-half Ryan Christie goal from enabling Celtic to lift the Betfred Cup. It was the third time in the previous two years that they’ve been forced to play the role of bridesmaid to Brendan Rodgers’ team at the national stadium and it hurt just as much as the others
Lewis Ferguson, the man responsible for the Pittodrie club being in the latest Hampden showdown thanks to his late winner in the semi-final against Rangers, insists payback is at the forefront of everyone’s minds when the two teams square off against each other for the first time since the cup final.
“That one hurt and you’ll always remember it,” admitted the summer signing from Hamilton. “I remember when we played Hearts at Tynecastle and they beat us and that one hurt. I remembered that when we played them again and I wanted to go out and not feel like that again. I wanted to make them feel the way I did. It would be good to do that similar type of thing to Celtic because they won the cup. Credit to them they played well on the day but that hurt for us. We’re just looking to get a bit of payback.”
One sort of payback Ferguson is not interested in is that of a personal kind. His manager was furious with Celtic right-back Mikael Lustig at the end of the final when the experienced Swedish international tried to goad his 19-year-old opponent with some pre-whistle celebrations as the clock ticked down on Aberdeen’s chances, while captain Scott Brown also came in for criticism as Celtic were accused of being bad winners.
Ferguson insists he wasn’t overly concerned with the actions of the opposing players and he won’t be riled if anybody in a green-and-white shirt looks to target him again.
“I’m not really bothered about Lustig,” he said. “I never think of him. I just get on with my own game. I try and win for Aberdeen. I’m not bothered about other players. If he did come at me in that game, I just took it in my stride. I’m not really fazed by anything like that.
“It’s because we’re the two top teams. In the last four years we’ve been up the top of the league. There’s always going to be that edge to the game compared to when you’re playing somebody who’s maybe lower. The two teams are real top sides and it’s a physical battle out there. There’s going to be a wee bit of edge on the game.”
On facing Brown in the final, he added: “I just got stuck into him when he came on. I don’t really care. If I’m playing against somebody, I don’t mind if they give me it back. I quite enjoy that side of the game. I like a tackle so I’m not really bothered about it. The gaffer and [assistant Tony Docherty] have told me there will be players who will try and noise me up, but just stare at them and walk away and just do your business on the football side of things.”
Aberdeen go into the game on the back of a run of eight wins from ten league games, which has taken them from the bottom six into the top three. For Ferguson there’s no mystery to the turnaround, simply the players believing in their abilities.
“Even when we lost to Celtic in the final, which was devastating, after that the mood around the place was good,” he revealed. “We were in a hotel for a few days down there and everything was good. We were all high in confidence. The gaffer and Doc said to us before the game at Ibrox [which Aberdeen won 1-0] that we had that confidence this month and we had so many games that we could go and start picking up points. Since then, we’ve just been building on that confidence.”