Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes today challenged the Dons to rediscover their hunger for the toughest game of the season – facing Celtic.
The Reds host the Premiership leaders at Pittodrie on Sunday on the back of a disappointing 2-0 loss at Hibs.
McInnes admitted the Dons were “murdered” at Easter Road and will demand an immediate response against the defending champions.
The Aberdeen manager is determined to end a NINE-game losing run to Celtic.
For McInnes, fundamental to that is rediscovering the Reds’ bite that deserted them in Edinburgh by firing into more tackles and challenges.
In short – get into Celtic’s faces and don’t give Brendan Rodgers’ side time on the ball.
He said: “Celtic is the toughest game of the season but regardless of who we are playing there has to be a better appetite for the game.
“We have to win more tackles, win more challenges, angle for the ball better, work harder to make things happen.
“We have to take a bit more responsibility.
“Everything we normally do.”
The disappointment of the capital loss was intensified when Celtic dropped points less than 24 hours later in a shock 0-0 draw with St Johnstone.
It was a missed opportunity to narrow the gap.
To compound the misery Rangers took full advantage to leapfrog Aberdeen into second spot on goal difference.
The absence of influential captain Graeme Shinnie in the defensive midfield role at Easter Road was telling.
Shinnie is so often the driving force in that midfield, snarling into tackles, his controlled aggression and leadership propelling the Dons.
The skipper will also miss the match with Celtic.
Aberdeen will also go into the toughest game of the season without play-maker Ryan Christie.
The Celtic attacker is ruled out of the match as he is ineligible to face his parent club due to the terms of his loan agreement.
Christie had to miss the Scottish Cup final last season due to that clause. The Dons pushed the Hoops close only to lose 2-1 to an injury-time goal from Tom Rogic.
So close was the margin in that final there is the inevitable question of whether the creativity and vision of Christie could have swung it in the Reds’ favour had he been available.
McInnes said: “There were not enough tackles won for my liking at Hibs and we missed our captain.
“Shinnie normally turns the ball over for us and gets us going that way.
“He gives us that impetus.”
Aberdeen have lost all five games to the Old Firm this season – three to Rangers and two to Celtic.
Despite that, they are still neck and neck with the Ibrox club in second spot, with Rangers edging it on goal difference.
Aberdeen also trail Celtic by just nine points.
Which is why regardless of the nature of the defeat at Hibs no one at Pittodrie will be pressing the panic button.
Prior to that result the Reds were on a four-game winning streak that had yielded 14 goals.
McInnes said: “When one team needed to step it up, Hibs did and we didn’t. And we went away with nothing.
“There are only 11 games to go and you cannot have too many days like that if you want to finish second at the very least.
“That is what we have to try to work towards now.”
Under McInnes the Dons have traditionally responded to disappointing defeats positively.
McInnes demanded an immediate reaction to the 2-0 loss to Rangers at Ibrox on January 24.
They delivered with four straight wins.
In-form Kilmarnock were despatched 3-1 at home before Ross County were defeated 4-2 in Dingwall.
Hamilton were overcome 3-0 in the Premiership at Pittodrie before the Reds progressed to the Scottish Cup quarter-finals with a 4-2 New Firm derby win over Dundee United.
“We normally get that response after a defeat and I am certainly looking for that,” explained McInnes.
“I would want that improvement regardless of who were are facing.
“Obviously, it is Celtic next, so there has to be that improvement from us.”
More than 2,000 Dons fans had travelled to Easter Road in high hopes of a third successive win over Neil Lennon’s Hibs this season.
Aberdeen obliterated the Edinburgh club 4-1 in December to follow up an earlier 1-0 win in the capital.
Following that comprehensive 4-1 win at Pittodrie, McInnes hailed the performance one their best of the season.
Lennon claimed it was their worst.
There was a complete role reversal last weekend.
McInnes said: “Hibs were the better team hands down. “Neil (Lennon) will probably say that was their best performance of the season or up there with it.
“As the opposition manager it is not always about my team playing poorly.
“But Hibs were miles better than us in the second half.
“They had better players who had a big influence in the game and we didn’t react to the way I expected.
“Especially when the second goal goes in.
“There was plenty of effort from the players but there wasn’t enough responsibility and we were second best in that whole second half.
“We matched up and there was a bit of cancelling out in the first 30 minutes where we had some good spells.
“However, there was not a lot happening.
“Kenny was unlucky with his strike and it was a good save from the goalkeeper. “Even in the first half when it was 0-0, I was still looking for more from us.
“I said at half-time we had to take more responsibility to get on the ball.
“We had to take more responsibility to squeeze the game and deny Hibs the space to work.”
However, it was Hibs that wrestled control as Lennon’s side were ahead within two minutes of the restart following a goal from Martin Boyle.
They doubled that advantage through Florian Kamberi.
Aberdeen’s on-loan Newcastle United keeper Freddie Woodman, an U20 World Cup winner, had to produce a host of saves to keep the score down.
In the aftermath of the defeat McInnes admitted: “Although we lost 2-0 we were lucky to get away with two.”
Now he is determined that defeat will be an aberration.
He said: “ That performance in the second half was in isolation as we don’t normally have too much of them.
“The result was really disappointing but when you play a good team like Hibs you have to be so much better than that.
“You have to give a far better level of performance to get something from the game.”
against Celtic it will be a case of improve – or else.