Aberdeen are down after a damaging Scottish Cup semi exit but boss Derek McInnes warned they are far from out.
The repercussions from the 3-0 semi-final defeat to Motherwell will resonate not only through the remaining five games of this campaign but deep into the summer transfer window and beyond.
McInnes has already confirmed it will be a busy close season with a high player turnover at Pittodrie.
For some, that Hampden showdown will be their last crack at cup glory in an Aberdeen shirt.
McInnes didn’t need an extensive post mortem after the semi-final to realise his squad was not strong enough to cope with the absence of key players like the suspended Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean and Shay Logan.
It was evident to him during the match.
For McInnes there is only one reaction to adversity – to come out fighting.
He intends to do that for the rest of the campaign in the scrap to secure second and will continue to do that in the close season to ensure the Reds are stronger next season.
The time for reflection has passed – now it is time for action and he will demand the Reds are up for the fight.
That begins on Saturday with the first post-split fixture, a trip to a Kilmarnock side that have won six in succession and are Scotland’s form team.
McInnes said: “When you get knocked down you always have to come back fighting and do what you think is right.
“I have a way of working that I trust and know.
“But as a manager, you are judged on the performance of others.
“We need to get better performances than we did from the players (in the semi).
“And build them up for the last five games because it is a big end to the season.
“Determination and resilience will be needed in the next five games to finish second and hopefully that will be some scant consolation for everyone if we can go and do that.
“Hopefully, we can go grasp it.”
Since McInnes arrived at Pittodrie in March 2013 there has been forward motion.
Every season he has focused on advancing the team’s fortunes.
Last season they reached both domestic finals, losing both to treble-winning Celtic.
A runners-up spot was also secured for a third successive campaign.
This season there will be no cup final and the Reds face a battle with Rangers, Hibs and now a resurgent Kilmarnock for second spot.
Success does not go unnoticed and last season’s form saw the break-up of Mcinnes’ side with Jonny Hayes sold to Celtic for £1.3m and skipper Ryan Jack switching to rivals Rangers.
Niall McGinn, now back at Pittodrie having returned in January, also rejected a new contract before eventually moving to Gwangju in South Korea. Jayden Stockley was sold to Exeter for £100,000 while Peter Pawlett (MK Dons) and Ash Taylor (Northampton) also moved on in the summer.
In the aftermath of crashing out to Motherwell in a cup competition for a second time this season, McInnes admitted he was partly culpable for the exit due to his business in the previous two transfer windows.
He is determined there will be no repeat and the Reds will return to a state of progression.
McInnes said: “We have got to make sure we get the players that we need to get the job done.
“Everyone is disappointed (after the semi loss) and I am not here to make my players feel worse than they already do at the minute.
“But the reality is when you work for Aberdeen, as a club there is a demand, an insistence, and a persistence to drive yourself on and be the best player you can be.
“We are professional in every element of the preparation. But it is important we all grasp the opportunities that come to us.
“This was a real missed opportunity.
“Some of the players will move on to other clubs and the loan players will go back.
“But a lot of players will go through their careers and not get this opportunity again.
“There will be ones who will remain with us and we will be keen to get back to this stage.
“We normally get to this stage in the season and are in finals and semi-finals and that will be the intention again.”
In the last two transfer windows McInnes has signed 13 players, eight on permanent deals and five on loan.
Taking the Pittodrie exit door were 11 players. Northern Ireland cap McGinn slightly skews those figures as he left, then returned on a three-and-a-half year deal to join the rebuilt Aberdeen mark II in January.
McLean also transferred to Norwich at the turn of the year, but was loaned back until the end of the season.
Aberdeen mark I broke up after last season’s 2-1 Scottish Cup final loss to Celtic.
McInnes said: “There was a feeling that after the cup final (last season) that it was the culmination of three or four years’ work.
“This was an opportunity for a new squad to get to their first final.
“This is a new squad and it was an opportunity for us and we came up short.
“Last season there was some sort of pleasure from the final because there was a team of attitude and intent.
“There was that ability and level of performance in the final but that wasn’t the case this time.
“We came up short for loads of reasons in the semi and there was no joy for us – absolutely nothing.”
Last season Aberdeen faced Celtic in both domestic finals.
This mantle has been wrestled away by Well who will go head to head with the Hoops in their second final of a remarkable campaign.
They earned it – beating Aberdeen twice, both times 3-0, on the way to the finals.
“We are going to be watching someone else take part in a cup final now,” said McInnes.
“That is when it will hit home.”
Before the final on May 19, there is the race for second in the league.
It will be scant consolation for the 12,000 Dons fans who travelled to Hampden but second place brings an extra £320,000 in prize money – £2.28m – with third £1.96m.
McInnes said: “Cups give you that little bit extra and the best chance to be successful.
“However the league position, wherever we finish, will indicate exactly how good we are or how much more we have to do.”