On the fourth anniversary of his first game in charge of Aberdeen, Derek McInnes will have every right to look back on a job well done.
Exactly four years to the day since he watched his new side play out a goalless draw with Hibernian at Easter Road in a bottom-six match in front of 8,362 bored-rigid souls, he will lead out his team to face the same club at Hampden in a Scottish Cup semi-final.
It will be the fifth time that he has taken Aberdeen to the national stadium in that period, and he has also lifted the League Cup at Celtic Park along the way. That’s not to mention his feat of transforming a team that was languishing in the bottom half of the table and turning them into the second-best team in the country.
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And yet, there is still an itch that McInnes needs to scratch, a hunger that won’t be sated until he has delivered what none of the nine permanent Aberdeen managers have been able to since Alex Smith’s side edged out Billy McNeil’s Celtic on penalties in Mount Florida in 1990; the Scottish Cup.
Still, as McInnes homes in on a third successive second-place finish, he allowed his mind to wander back to where it all began for him with Aberdeen, that dour Monday night in Leith four years ago.
“That game was a shocker,” McInnes recalled. “Back then there was nothing to play for and it was about assessing the players.
“We had five meaningless games. There was nothing riding on them but professional pride.
“Now here we are, a semi-final to look forward to, Europe secured and fighting for second spot. It’s important for a club like this to have meaningful games at this stage of the season.
“That was something we wanted to address and it’s probably something we have done.
“We felt there were good players here but we probably needed a few more to raise the standards and help those good players. The difference between our best player and poorest player was too big in the squad.
“It was important to get a more balanced level of performances. No disrespect to the squad I inherited. I was probably a bit harsh with a few of them when I first came in and a few harsh decisions were made because we only had a few weeks and knew we needed to bring in a freshness.
“Now we're the second-best team in the country, we're in good form barring six or seven minutes against Rangers here, and there's been a lot I've been really pleased with in the team: the level of performance, the results have been good, we've been scoring goals and we overcame a tough last week at St Johnstone. We go into this one really looking forward to it.”
Aberdeen supporters may not be able to lay claim to the title of long-suffering, particularly when they reflect on the progress they have made and the good times they have seen since McInnes’s arrival in the north-east.
But while they may not have had to endure quite as long a wait to see the Scottish Cup trophy held aloft by their captain as tomorrow’s opponents did before busting their 114-year hoodoo last May, 27 years is still a long time for a club the size of Aberdeen to go without savouring such a victory.
The wound from this season’s meek League Cup final defeat to Celtic is still raw too, meaning there is no lack of motivation for the Dons ahead of tomorrow’s encounter.
“It's a hell of a long time for the supporters to wait,” said McInnes. “Obviously, we're keen to make our mark on the cup competitions.
“When we lost the final earlier in the season we said even in the changing room after the game that it was important that part of the healing was to try and get back to a final as quickly as possible. We now find ourselves in a semi-final stage and hopefully we can use all the experiences we've had, good and bad, to feel more at home in these sorts of situations.
“Hibs have got the experience of obviously winning the Cup last year, the confidence of winning their league and the level of player that they have will prove a difficult game for us.
“We'll respect them and look at their strengths and maybe where we can have a bit of joy against them but we're confident in ourselves as well.”
Aberdeen’s chances may be boosted by the return of Niall McGinn to the side after he missed last weekend’s trip to St Johnstone with a groin injury, with McInnes confident that his winger will be fit and raring to go by the time the game rolls around.
“He's been with the physio all week and he trained today so he travels with the squad tomorrow,” he said. “The physio gave us the thumbs up on Tuesday when the players were on a day off but Niall came in and did a bit of work with him and he's trained full pelt today.
“He's been in good form and his experience is key as well in these types of games. He's been desperate to make it. We made the right decision last Friday when we decided that he wouldn't travel to Perth with this game in mind."