Aberdeen won’t retain the Scottish League Cup and they won’t pick up the Scottish Cup, but by taking on Celtic in a title race till March, the subliminal positive effects of lasting most of the distance will only be beneficial come the start of the new season.
By winning the League Cup against Inverness Caledonian Thistle last season, the club, the fans and the entire city was buoyed by the improvement of their team. There won’t be silver in the trophy cabinet this year, yet this trophy-less season is a further step in their ascendancy under McInnes.
They haven’t taken a step back, yet this squad is more mature and sharper than the one that lifted the Cup. They haven’t sat still, the capturing of Ash Taylor has been somewhat surprisingly a coup, and up until a 4-0 defeat at Celtic Park, they strung together their longest unbeaten league run in 20 years.
The only legitimate criticism of the Dons this year can be their lack of squad depth, but their starting XI has such a consistent nucleus that the headaches of squad rotation in a larger squad would only hinder this machine that McInnes has created.
I’ve covered Aberdeen fairly regularly this season, and there’s been little to suggest that another side, minus Celtic, can touch them.
Controlled by Ryan Jack in the middle of the park, they have a ripened, yet young, holding midfielder who is on the fringes of a Scotland call-up. Jonny Hayes provides incessant fitness and blistering pace typically unrecognisable at Scottish Premiership level, and Adam Rooney is an old-school centre-forward with the natural knack of finishing to match.
The likes of Peter Pawlett, now on the bench after the signing of Kenny McLean, doesn’t deliver a starting line-up dilemma, it only strengthens the McInnes arsenal when backs are against the wall.
But the lessons learnt this season are the ones that will transfer them from the best of the rest, to being on the same level as Celtic.
They know what it takes to win cups, they now know what it takes to go for punch-for-punch till March, they’ve now been given a glimpse of what it’s like to lead the top of the Scottish Premiership.
When Dundee came to town for a 3-3 draw in the midst of the storming form, it wasn’t just the brimming crowd which added to the big-match feel, it was the congestion of the streets, the smatterings of red and white all over the city, the horse-riding police officers trekking down King Street as though a riot was predicted. The whole city had bought into what was possible.
What was undoubtedly a thrashing at Celtic Park may just now feel like a kick in the proverbials and a robbing of a juvenile craving for glory, but it’s just another lesson under McInnes.
He isn’t vacuous. He’ll have known the Premiership was a step too far this year, but correspondingly he’ll recognise the lessons learned from getting relatively close to unexpected glory.
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Jeff Holmes Pix