DEREK McINNES gave a sharp response to John Hughes last night after the Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager attempted to apply pressure ahead of Sunday's League Cup final.
McInnes also joined with one of the club's cup-winning former managers, Alex Smith, in criticising the decision not to allocate further tickets to the already 40,000-strong Aberdeen support.
Hughes said his team had been so disadvantaged by refereeing decisions, suspension rules and fixture scheduling that it is as if the cup may as well be handed to Aberdeen. But McInnes hit back, saying Hughes' complaint about being made to play an SPFL Premiership game at home to Hibernian tonight - a match McInnes will attend - contradicted what he had said last week.
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"I don't know if it's mind games, you'd need to ask him," the Aberdeen manager said. "But I'm a bit confused. Last week he said he'd rather have a game, that 'these boys would rather play than train'. So which is it?
"The good thing from their point of view is that they have two players who are available for the final now [Greg Tansey and Marley Watkins will serve suspensions tonight after weekend dismissals]. You know, we both had a cup tie at the weekend and we both ran the risk of getting injuries and suspensions. From my point of view, would I like a midweek game before a cup final? Absolutely not. But I thought I read comments from him last week about how he was happy with the game."
Opponents have frequently tried to unnerve and pressurise Aberdeen this season, said McInnes, and so far without success. "It was the Dumbarton players last week, saying all the pressure was on Aberdeen. We've had it all season. From every [media] columnist to the opposition - and I can understand why - [saying] there is an expectation on the team.
"There are 40,000 coming but the players have handled every situation and every challenge so far this season. It's not going to affect us. Whether we're overwhelming favourites like we were last week against Dumbarton, underdogs like we were against Celtic at Parkhead, or having a huge question mark hanging over us like before the semi-final against St Johnstone, these boys have been good enough and strong enough to deal with that."
Meanwhile, Smith, who led Aberdeen to cup final triumphs in 1989 and 1990, joined McInnes in criticising the decision not to release the Pittodrie club further tickets for the showpiece. Aberdeen have been frustrated in an attempt to secure a greater allocation despite the fact that thousands of Parkhead seats are being left empty. Having sold an extraordinary 40,000, they still had a demand for more.
The club contacted the Scottish Professional Football League requesting an additional allocation for the unused upper tier of the Lisbon Lions Stand but that was refused on the grounds it would cause segregation and security issues because of supporters sitting above the 7000 Inverness fans in the tier below.
Smith, now director of football at Falkirk, said: "I can understand the safety aspect of it but this is a cup final. It's Aberdeen and Inverness. These people are coming down for their cup final. They're not coming down for trouble. There's no history of violence between them. I can't see it being a problem.
"We have 40-45,000 from Aberdeen and nearly 10,000 from Inverness coming to a cup final. Surely they are not going to come and fight. They're going to enjoy the occasion. Even if they lose they're at least competing for cups, back in the big time. They should embrace that."
He said: "We can't afford to turn away people who want to pay in to Scottish football because we're all desperate for money. If they're 5000 short of a sell-out and there's demand, that's a lot of money. It's also about getting 5000 people to a game of football who might not go regularly if at all. It's about getting them back."
His ultimate successor at the Pittodrie club was of a similar mind. "It's disappointing," agreed McInnes. "In the current climate of Scottish football it's disappointing we can't cater for fans desperate to come to a game and see their team play.
"But in fairness I don't think anyone estimated we'd still be looking for more tickets that we have got. We're touching 3,000 in hospitality with 40,000 supporters. Nobody envisaged that at the outset.
"There is going to be a lot of people in the Aberdeen support who haven't seen us this season, that's a fact. There will be fans who aren't our diehards and who haven't been with us every week. But if you've paid your money to get a ticket you'll get behind the team as well. It would be great if we could have that real strong vocal backing that we've had up and down the country."
Peter Pawlett is expected to resume training with the squad today and should be fine for the final after recovering from a leg injury.