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Aberdeen 4 St Johnstone 0: Keeping it simple paying off, but McInnes is the real key to revival

THERE was a roll call of defeats past among the press as they battered out their tributes to truth as Derek McInnes shuffled his way into the media room to discuss his side's progression to the League Cup final.

Peter Pawlett, right, celebrates with Adam Rooney, centre, and Niall McGinn after scoring his side's second goal as Aberdeen at last reach a final. Picture: SNS
Peter Pawlett, right, celebrates with Adam Rooney, centre, and Niall McGinn after scoring his side's second goal as Aberdeen at last reach a final. Picture: SNS

The invocation of Alloa, Queen's Park, Queen of the South, East Fife, Raith Rovers, Dunfermline - surely it was my imagination that conjured up a mention of Campsie Black Watch and the Dagenham Girls' Pipe Band - was in deference to Aberdeen's chronic under-achievement in cup competition, stretching back to a League Cup final victory in 1996.

McInnes, impressive off the pitch as he undoubtedly is on the training field, made light of the tensions facing his side but there is a pressure on Aberdeen to win a cup. The hackneyed line is to blame supporters who demand a return to the Fergie era. The only Aberdeen fans who believe it possible are those consuming angel dust and there are not many of them, save on the days it is punted at a discount on Union Street.

The sober truth is that Aberdeen supporters just want to win a cup in the manner of Dundee United, Kilmarnock and St Mirren in recent years. They will tremble in anticipation on March 16 when they will be favourites to defeat Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

The contagious, nervous excitement of Saturday at Tynecastle was scarred by the idiocy of two fans who ran on to the park and the moronic imbecility of those - in a section containing Aberdeen fans - who subjected Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, to verbal abuse with objects being thrown.

However, in its purest, most innocent form it resounded among the 16,000 fans of both teams who just wanted to see their team take advantage of an opportunity to reach a final. It amounted to a fever among those from the north-east who have had ambitions chilled by the most humble in recent years.

Their progress to the showpiece was almost serene after they weathered a period of St Johnstone pressure in the first half. Most encouragingly for the Aberdeen support, a method prevailed within the routine madness of a semi-final.

There is a simplicity to Aberdeen. McInnes picked a flat back four who defended in a rigid solid line. He placed two experienced midfielders directly in front of them in the shape of Willo Flood and Barry Robson and had Adam Rooney at the point of attack supported by the pace of Jonny Hayes, Peter Pawlett and Niall McGinn. It is hardly shocking, then, to report that the first three of his side's goals came when St Johnstone gave away possession; Aberdeen reacted quickly and exploited the consequent gaps in the defence.

Aberdeen, too, were grateful for a save by Jamie Langfield from Lee Croft at 1-0 but McInnes may point out privately that is what his keeper is paid to do. Publicly, he was properly praising of his players, particularly the obdurate Russell Anderson who at 35, both relished and won the battle with Stevie May. He was honest, too, in admitting the dominance of St Johnstone in the first half.

There is another truth, though, emanating from Pittodrie. It could be heard in the words last week of Barry Robson, a veteran McInnes recruit, and two-goal Jonny Hayes on Saturday. It is this: McInnes is a young manager of substance. The players talk of his obsessive attention to detail and of his impressive powers of motivation. Aberdeen were certainly organised on Saturday but they were also sharply dangerous.

Apart from Anderson, Mark Reynolds was outstanding in defence, Flood highly competent in midfield and Pawlett and Hayes quick and decisive on the break. Rooney was clever in his movement and is the perfect accessory to a speedy midfield.

St Johnstone came out brandishing a claymore and fell on their sword. They gave away goals. They played vigorously until then the end but May was inadequately served and robustly defended.

The plaudits thus were ladled on the winners. Before the match there was the unusual sight of Stewart Milne, the club chairman, popping in for a drink in Haymarket and being congratulated by supporters who know he has supported the manager financially.

After the match, there was the observation from an Aberdeen supporter in the press flock that McInnes could be the first Pittodrie manager since Fergie to be lured from the club to another job.

Certainly, he has already made a substantial impression and his ambition has seeped into his cadre of players. "We have a lot of good types and we're grateful for that," he said of the mentality of his squad.

Of Anderson's progress to the cup final, he said: "For someone who has endured a lot at Aberdeen with very little success, he deserves it."

The endurance continues for the Aberdeen fans, however, as McInnes admitted the doubts over his side's ability to win a trophy can only end with one being paraded in red and white ribbons in March.

Has the psychological barrier been broken? "Probably just until the final," he said with a smile. "When that comes around the same question mark will be hanging over us.

"I get that and I understand that but we're focused and happy that we can achieve what we want to achieve by working hard and showing a good work ethic."

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