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McInnes brings hope to long-suffering fans

FOR most Aberdeen fans, especially those too young to remember Gothenburg and the Alex Ferguson era, this must feel like uncharted territory.

Derek McInnes has led Aberdeen to two cup finals. Picture: SNS
Derek McInnes has led Aberdeen to two cup finals. Picture: SNS

Football supporters of most clubs are attuned to expect disappointment rather than triumph but those who follow Aberdeen have suffered more than most in recent times. It is 19 years since they last won a trophy, and 14 since they played in a cup final. They reached two that year - the League Cup and the Scottish Cup - and lost both without scoring a goal. They have not come close to rewarding their sizeable, and remarkably patient, fanbase since.

Until now that is. For something is definitely stirring in the north-east. Derek McInnes has been in charge for less than a year, but the upturn in the club's fortunes has been sudden and dramatic. Aberdeen, after years of underachievement, are finally at the end of the league table commensurate with their wage budget. More significantly, they seem to have kicked their unfortunate habit of losing cup ties they are widely expected to win.

They have managed nothing of substance yet, of course, but there is a strong chance of at least one piece of silverware being paraded around Pittodrie. For those supporters young enough to know only disappointment and frustration, it almost seems too good to be true.

Two big victories within the space of a week have shown this is an Aberdeen side of some substance.

The 4-0 victory over St Johnstone in the League Cup semi-final was significant on two grounds. It took the club into its first final since 2000, a landmark moment in itself. And, perhaps more importantly, it showed there was little of the mental frailty that has often been the downfall of previous Aberdeen teams. Success then begat more success.

On a high following that win at Tynecastle, McInnes and his players then went to Glasgow and knocked Celtic out of the William Hill Scottish Cup. They are now favourites to win both cup competitions, something that has not been said about an Aberdeen side for quite some time.

"We go on about long-suffering Aberdeen fans and they've been long suffering because they've been in so many semi-finals but not being able to get over that hurdle and into a final," said Willie Miller, the former Aberdeen captain and manager. "That was a major barrier until last Saturday at Tynecastle when they made that leap and got themselves into a final and given themselves a chance of winning a trophy. That helped them going into the match against Celtic. They handled that game with maturity and confidence.

"They've got the mix right with bags of experience and a bit of youth about the team as well. I thought they would have a good season, but it's heading towards a fabulous season and I'm sure they will now take the tag of favourite for both cup competitions. Derek is shrewd enough to know there is a long way to go before you can lift two cups in your first season - but it wouldn't be a bad first season for him, would it?"

They would be parading McInnes up and down Union Street in a sedan chair for most of the summer should that come to pass, although perhaps his success shouldn't really be that much of a surprise.

He demonstrated during four years at St Johnstone that he was a more than capable manager, while he has made a number of astute signings both in the summer and in the January windows.

Miller said: "Derek has a fine reputation. He is a good manager and he has handled it extremely well. The way he communicates to the nation and to the Aberdeen fans is first class and I think he's got the right players. Getting [Barry] Robson and [Willo] Flood were vital, and getting [Adam] Rooney in will be a fabulous signing for them.

"He's got the team, he's nurtured the young players and Russell Anderson as well, because if you had asked me at the start of the season how many games Russell would play, I'd never have said any more than half of them. He's been absolutely fabulous. Derek now has to handle extra expectation but I think he'll do that. He's been absolutely magnificent for the club."

The experienced figures may be a calming influence in the Pittodrie dressing room but it is the younger ones who have brought vitality and drive. None have impressed more than Peter Pawlett, the 23-year-old attacker whose goals were key to the wins against St Johnstone and Celtic.

"Watching Peter and Ryan [Jack], having known them from a very early age and watching them develop, gives me a lot of pleasure," added Miller. "Peter has had hard stages to come through. He had the diving question mark over him and was playing with a bit immaturity at times, but he's matured into the man we thought he was capable of being.

"To get two goals in such important games this week, and particularly the way he took the goal against Celtic, was so vital to the club. It's good to see when you put that much effort and thought process into developing your own players that you get that reward, because on too many occasions at Aberdeen they haven't been able to keep a hold of the players.

"You look at [Jack] Grimmer, [Fraser] Fyvie and [Ryan] Fraser - we've lost them before we've really seen them playing. It's good to have Peter there, perhaps showing them the error of their ways."

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