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Willo Flood won't shirk being put on the spot for Aberdeen against St Johnstone

AT training this week, Derek McInnes will try his best to replicate the test conditions of a dramatic penalty shoot-out to settle the semi-final of a major cup competition.

Derek McInnes will ensure his Aberdeen players are up to the mark in the event that penalties are needed against St Johnstone Photograph: SNS
Derek McInnes will ensure his Aberdeen players are up to the mark in the event that penalties are needed against St Johnstone Photograph: SNS

But the Aberdeen boss would have to go some to recreate the unique mixture of stresses, strains, contradictions and uncertainties which were swirling inside the mind of Willo Flood on the night of Wednesday, January 28, 2009.

With Dundee United's last-four encounter against Celtic in this very same League Cup competition having ended goalless after 120 minutes, all eyes were trained on Flood, who had been heavily linked pre-match with a move to Celtic, a transfer, it transpired, which would duly take place just 24 hours later.

Undaunted, however, up he stepped to beat Artur Boruc from 12 yards. As he walked jauntily back to join his team-mates on halfway, the stress dropping from his shoulders, little did he suspect his work for the night wasn't yet done. His next intervention would still prove decisive in a shoot-out which ended in an 11-10 victory to the Parkhead side.

"I remember playing in that thinking: 'thank God that's my penalty over now'," said Flood. "Coming down, 7 ... 8 … 9 … 10, I still thought surely someone will miss. Big Lee Wilkie missed, but then they obviously missed too and it came back around towards me. On my way up I picked a side and at the last minute I changed my mind and unfortunately I hit the crossbar. Watching the Manchester United game in midweek brings it all back. People say 'oh yeah it's only 12 yards, it's only a penalty you should score, but it's the pressure of the situation and it obviously gets to some more than others'."

Flood is 28 now and has had a fine career but one which has yet to harvest any silverware worth talking about. There was another demoralising defeat on penalties, to Rangers in the final of this competition in March 2008, while a bout of tonsillitis cost him the chance to watch United from the stands as they won the Scottish Cup against Ross County in 2010.

But hope springs eternal, and having already prevailed on spot kicks once this season, against Alloa, those previous disappointments wouldn't prevent him volunteering for the ordeal once again. "At Dundee United I said I wouldn't take any more for them because I felt I'd let the club down," said Flood. "But if we have a penalty shoot-out against St Johnstone I'll ask the gaffer to take one, if he'll let me. I want to be a player that has actually won something in his career and I haven't won anything since I was a kid at Man City. We won a tournament over in Italy, playing Juventus and a few other teams. That's a long time ago. Hopefully it's a good day out, but I've got a six-year-old kid [Aaron] and it would be nice for him to say his dad has won something."

McInnes is another man with a litany of semi-final near misses to speak of, the fixture against his former club somehow typical of the fickle fates of football.

He racked five appearances at this stage as both player and manager with St Johnstone, a club where members of his backroom staff such as Alec Cleland and Tommy Campbell still work. Upon arriving at Pittodrie, one stated ambition was to transplant some of that St Johnstone spirit, a task he feels he has been at least partially successful.

"What we have tried to do is manifest that togetherness that we managed to create at St Johnstone, and St Johnstone still have," said McInnes.

"This is the bigger club, but St Johnstone have been the better side for a while now. I still know the directors there. A lot of my staff are still there, and a lot of the players I worked with. But they know and I know that we move on."

More than three quarters of Tynecastle on Saturday will be taken up by Aberdeen fans, representative of an as-yet unfulfilled yearning for cup glory which has proved the undoing of many recent Aberdeen managers.

McInnes regards that as a help rather than a hindrance, but knows the hard yards will be done by the players themselves. "I don't think that will give us any real advantage, but it is always nice to have that," the 42-year-old said. "If things are going well then great, but I need to make sure the support stays with the team. I said to all the players that there must have been some point when you signed for Aberdeen, whether as a youngster, or came from outwith, that you were signing thinking you were going to be successful. Aberdeen is a good club, it looks after its players, but there comes a responsibility with that. A responsibility to win and be successful."

Having famously never won a major title in their history, that yearning is no less in Perth, although McInnes has a point of order. "We did win the Challenge Cup when I was there!" he says.

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