Captain Joe Lewis has challenged Aberdeen to prove their strength during the ongoing injury crisis, as they prepare to take on St Mirren in the Betfred Cup.
With the Dons decimated by injury and self-isolation due to Covid-19, players with limited game time have been drafted into the starting line-up.
The replacements lost 4-0 at Rangers and squandered a half-time lead to draw 1-1 with the Premiership’s bottom team Hamilton.
There were seven first-team regulars missing for the draw with Hamilton and none of them are set to return for Saturday’s League Cup tie at St Mirren.
Speaking ahead of the St Mirren clash, Aberdeen skipper Lewis said: “Everyone has said how strong our squad is – it’s up to us to show that now.
“We’ve got players who have come in and are playing in their strongest positions.
“It’s down to us to step up and prove they should have been in the team in the first place.”
Aberdeen will be without the injured Scott Wright, Jonny Hayes, Dylan McGeouch and Marley Watkins for the cup tie at St Mirren.
They are also without Ross McCrorie, Lewis Ferguson and Connor McLennan, who are self-isolating following a Covid-19 outbreak in the Scotland Under-21 squad.
Dons boss Derek McInnes recently criticised the SFA’s coronavirus protocols for international squads.
SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell this week apologised to teams like Aberdeen for the chaos caused by the outbreak in the U21 camp.
On those three being ruled out, Lewis said: “It’s very disappointing.
“The club do absolutely everything to the letter at the training ground.
“Everyone is in different changing rooms, individual seats in the dining room.
“Everything is done properly so if one person contracts Covid, no-one else has to isolate.
“It’s credit to the club and (director of football operations) Steven Gunn, who’ve put those procedures in place.
“You hope that’s done elsewhere but it obviously wasn’t, which is disappointing.
“We went down to Hamilton in two buses – you want everyone together, but we have the extra expense so everyone can be two metres away from each other.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s up to the players that come in to deal with it.”
Aberdeen appeared to be cruising to three points at Hamilton when leading 1-0 at half-time after dominating the first 45 minutes.
Hamilton equalised early in the second half against Aberdeen through a header from Marios Ogkmpoe, who Lewis – who will lead the team out against St Mirren tomorrow – believes was offside.
Lewis, 33, said: “We could have taken more advantage of the play in the first half and if you don’t put it to bed, you leave it up to chance at the end.
“They’re a team that attack the ball well.
“I’ve seen it again and it’s tight, but I think it’s offside.
“We’ve probably given away too many free-kicks, which is a strength of Hamilton’s.
“They put the ball in the box and have some big guys attacking the ball aggressively.
“If you allow that to happen, it becomes a risk.
“It was that one where I feel like it’s offside, but if you give away the opportunity too often, you run the risk of someone dropping a man or a slight error from the official.
A frustrating night for Aberdeen could have been even worse, but for a superb save from Lewis in injury time to deny substitute David Moyo’s powerful drive.
He said: “It was the first save I had to make.
“That’s my job, that’s what I’ve been working hard on since I’ve been at the club.
“They’re pleasing saves – more than if you’ve been involved in the whole game. “
Hamilton away was the 16th match Aberdeen have played this season in all competitions with no crowds.
The only time there has been supporters was 300 at a “test” event for a 1-0 defeat of Kilmarnock at Pittodrie in September.
Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack recently called for urgent talks with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and National Clinical Director Jason Leitch to devise a plan for the safe return of fans.
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster this week requested an emergency meeting with the First Minister to discuss supporters returning to stadia.
In England, up to 4,000 fans will be allowed to attend games in Tier 1, with 2,000 in Tier 2.
In response to Doncaster’s request, the First Minister said football “can’t be treated in isolation”.
Lewis said: “The football clubs are wanting to get the ball rolling.
“I know Aberdeen have been one of the more vocal and rightly so, in my opinion.
“There needs to be some plan put in place now.
“It has down south in England, I can’t see why it wouldn’t be (in Scotland).
“Some sort of plan, so the clubs know where they stand, would be nice.
“The SPFL have released a statement which the club have fully-backed and hopefully we can get the ball rolling.
“The clubs won’t be making a massive amount of money because it’ll be season ticket holders that are let back in. But it’s the first step towards getting back to full capacity.”