Boss Derek McInnes is confident Aberdeen can still beat Rangers and Celtic over 90 minutes if he has his battle-hardened campaigners available.
Aberdeen crashed to a damaging 5-0 loss to Rangers at Ibrox, the heaviest defeat in McInnes’ six and a half years at Pittodrie.
McInnes had seven players ruled out by injury before suffering the setback of losing experienced centre-back Andy Considine just three hours before kick-off due to gastroenteritis.
The Dons boss said: “With our strongest team and the battle-hardened and experienced players, boys that have been here time and time again – we can still win these type of games. There is no question about that.
“But on Saturday we were miles away from it.
“I need my battle-hardened and experienced players such as Andy Considine for these games.”
Considine’s late call-off at the team hotel in Glasgow deepened the injury crisis with centre-backs Scott McKenna and Ash Taylor already out with hamstring tears.
Midfielders Craig Bryson, Funso Ojo, Scott Wright and Stephen Gleeson are long-term injury absentees while attacker James Wilson was also ruled out with a knee injury.
Not just the scoreline, but the manner of the defeat were dismal. Yet there also has to be some context placed on the situation.
Pressing the panic button is far too premature – yet patience is a virtue some supporters seem short of. McInnes made nine signings this summer in a rebuild.
Key players were lost such as influential captain Graeme Shinnie, who rejected a new contract to move to Derby County.
Injuries have decimated the squad and there have been limited options to see the new-look Dons in action, let alone gel.
At Ibrox the spine of the team was weakened with three experienced centre-backs unavailable.
Central midfielders Ojo and Bryson were also absent, players signed in the summer to provide experience to the team’s heart.
McInnes had to field a central midfield partnership with an average age of just 19.
Lewis Ferguson, 20, is an exceptional talent and destined to become a senior Scotland international. However, last season was his first full campaign of first-team action having signed from Hamilton after just 14 starts.
Dean Campbell, 18, is another exciting talent who has featured in previous wins at both Ibrox and Parkhead. However, the 5-0 loss was only his seventh start.
They were up against Steve Davis, 34, who has more than 300 appearances in the English top flight and Scott Arfield, 30, who racked up more than 100 English Premier League appearances.
Ferguson and Campbell had to play without the presence of a player like Shinnie who brought bite, drive and leadership.
Following Shinnie’s exit, Bryson was brought in to replace him and add that tenacity.
Bryson was a major signing but arrived with an ankle injury that took him six weeks to shrug off. He then suffered an injury to the other ankle and is out for a month.
McInnes said: “There is no doubting any team that has eight injuries, and five or six of them would be starters for us, then any team would suffer from that.
“I thought we were very young out there and at times we played that way. We had a very young midfield out there, but I do feel as a team we lacked a bit of personality and sometimes you learn a lot about your team.
“For an Aberdeen team, we still want to make sure we are far more competitive than we were.”
The injury crisis will eventually subside although Ojo is out until the turn of the year with a significant hamstring tear.
Attacking midfielder Wright is out for the season with a cruciate ligament injury.
The time to assess this new-look Aberdeen team is when the majority of the players are fit – not when they are ravaged by injury and just seven games into the league.
Losing 5-0 to anyone is unacceptable and the Dons still had a team strong enough to compete.
It was a bad day – not end of days.
A perfect storm of Aberdeen being hit by injuries, not playing well and Rangers being fired up.
McInnes remains confident that when he gets his experienced campaigners back the Reds will be able to beat Rangers and Celtic in one-off games which will be required for any cup success.
The Premiership narrative appears to now be Celtic going for nine in a row, and Rangers trying to prevent that.
It will not have been popular with some but McInnes was correct in his assessment that if Rangers and Celtic are doing their jobs right, in spending their money wisely and appointing the right managers, then they will be the two fighting it out at the top.
Both Glasgow clubs have ticked those boxes.
The truth hurts – Aberdeen are likely to be fighting for third.
That is the reality.
Celtic posted profits of £11.3m for the last year and Rangers are getting the funds from somewhere to finance the £7.5m signing of Ryan Kent. Both splashed multi-millions in the summer to launch a bid for the Premiership title. In football, as in any walk of life, money talks.
Aberdeen spent just £125,000 in the summer on Ojo – and he is out for the rest of the year with a bad hamstring tear.
After the shocker at Ibrox, the heartache of the shoot-out loss at Hearts and the drudgery of the win at Livingston, the Dons are still just two points off third placed Motherwell. McInnes accepts the Dons must deliver more. And is confident they will.
He said: “There was maybe a lethargy about our performance, but we were also too passive at times as well.
“We have to show more steeliness and determination.”