Aberdeen’s Mackay-Steven: Rangers are our closest rivals – now we want to consolidate second place with win at Ibrox

Aberdeen's Gary Mackay-Steven scores the fourth against St Mirren.

Winger Gary Mackay-Steven insists Aberdeen’s priority is to attack Rangers at Ibrox in a bid to open up a six-point gap on their rivals.

Aberdeen ended a 26-year wait for a win at Rangers last season when they triumphed 2-1 in May, but that Ibrox agony returned this season when they were humbled 3-0.

That was the first of back-to-back defeats to Rangers with a 2-1 reverse at Pittodrie coming days later.

Those losses, which came while Rangers were courting boss Derek McInnes for their then vacant managerial post, still rankle with the Dons.

In-form Mackay-Steven will pitch up in Govan tomorrow evening on a high having scored the goal of his career with a sublime strike in the 4-1 Scottish Cup fourth round defeat of St Mirren.

With confidence high, the winger has one intention and that is to take the game to Rangers – and he insists that will be the Reds’ game plan.

He said: “Rangers are our closest rivals right now and we want to consolidate second place.

“We have got a big chance to do that at Ibrox and that will definitely be in our minds.

“We want to go to Ibrox and not just look to contain Rangers, we want to express ourselves and go for the win.”

The 3-0 defeat to Rangers in Govan on November 29 was the Reds’ worst performance of the season.

There was an immediate opportunity for redemption when the sides met at Pittodrie just four days later.

Aberdeen failed to grab it and lost again as the speculation linking McInnes to the Ibrox side ramped up a further notch. Just days later Rangers made a formal approach to talk to McInnes about their managerial post.

It was immediately rejected by Pittodrie chairman Stewart Milne. McInnes missed two days of training to mull over his future before rejecting Rangers.

With no managerial sideshow it is now the raw basics of two sides going head to head – and Mackay-Steven is determined the real Aberdeen will show up tomorrow.

He said: “We didn’t show the best versions of ourselves in the two previous times we have played Rangers.

“Now we want to put that right in what will be a massive game at Ibrox..

“It will be a tough game, it won’t be easy.

“We will look at Rangers’ strengths and weaknesses and see what we can do.

“However, ultimately we will focus on our own strengths to go there and get three points.

“If we play like we did against St Mirren we will give ourselves a great chance.”

Victory at Ibrox would land a major blow in the Dons’ bid to secure a fourth successive runners-up finish.

However, Scotland cap Mackay-Steven, 27, is more concerned with looking upwards in the table and trying to close the gap on league leaders Celtic.

He said: “You have to look ahead.

“We are in second place, which is a good position.

“But we want to look ahead and keep progressing, to keep winning games and see where that takes us.”

Aberdeen’s wide options were bolstered by the return of Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn.

Earlier this month the 30-year-old penned a long-term deal until summer 2021.

McGinn, who rejected a Dons deal last summer after five years at the club, made his second debut when coming off the bench in the cup victory. Mackay-Steven welcomed the increased competition McGinn’s return brings, but underlined his desire to retain his starting slot with a superb goal and an assist.

He said: “It is great all round that Niall is here.

“He was a great player at Aberdeen before and has come back and will only strengthen the team.

“Competition for places is really healthy and that is what you want as a player.

“You want to have the strongest squad to give yourselves the best chance throughout the year.”

As a statement of intent on retaining his starting slot, it doesn’t come more emphatic than his sensational strike against the Buddies.

He said: “That was probably the best goal I have scored. I got in front of the defender and just hit it.

“From the moment it left my foot I thought it had a chance and it was nice to see it go in the top corner.

“It was an important goal as well because 3-1 is never a safe result. Going 4-1 up made it hard for St Mirren to come back.

“That goal was very pleasing as I have not scored many like that.

“I was happy to help the team get the win as St Mirren are a good side who have been going well this season.

“From the start we were at it though, and really wanted to stamp our authority.

“The Scottish Cup is very important for us and we want to do well in it.

“We know we are a good side when we are at it and to a man we were excellent against St Mirren.”