Dons boss Derek McInnes reckons their Scottish Cup success against Kilmarnock shows Aberdeen are returning to the standards he expects.
The Reds earned their place in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals the hard way, twice coming from behind to win the fifth round replay 4-3 at Rugby Park after extra-time on Wednesday.
The Dons have received criticism from sections of their fanbase, particularly since the winter break.
Aberdeen won only one of their first six games after the January shutdown and failed to score in five successive matches.
But in the last fortnight McInnes’ men have drawn 0-0 with Killie in the cup, beaten Hamilton Accies 3-1 and lost 2-1 to Celtic prior to Wednesday’s replay win in Ayrshire.
McInnes said: “We managed to stay in the cup and my players deserve so much credit, because we’ve taken a bit of a kicking at times this season.
“But hopefully the narrative is how resilient and how strong my team were as a whole unit to make sure they won the game.
“In the last few games I think performances have been better.
“But it’s results that matter and the cup is so important for us as a club.
“Nobody knows that more than me. Every year we put ourselves forward as a team that can win it.
“You can’t say that as a manager if I didn’t believe in my team – we are one of the few teams that believe from the start we can win it.
“Our supporters, our players, everyone at the club needs a good cup run, not just for the feel-good factor, but the financial aspect is important.
“It can give your league campaign a shot of adrenaline if you’ve got quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals to look forward to.
“We’ve been that team and we’ve felt the benefit in the league and hopefully we can be that team again.
“It was a big win for us on Wednesday and I do think there has been a real improvement in performance over the last four games.
“We’ve got a squad that is getting stronger and getting back to a level of performance that is more akin to the standards we’ve set in the last seven years.”
McInnes was also thrilled with the energy displayed – both physically and mentally – during the closing stages at Rugby Park.
Aberdeen fell 3-2 behind in the 117th minute when Nicke Kabamba scored for Killie, but Sam Cosgrove’s leveller from the penalty spot and Connor Johnson’s last-gasp own goal from Andy Considine’s cross turned the tie on its head.
McInnes added: “Those two big moments in the last 90 seconds are so important for us and brilliant for us.
“It’s harsh on Kilmarnock because you don’t play a game like that without both teams playing their part and Kilmarnock deserved something and deserved credit, and they’re a good team with a lot of know-how and experience.
“I thought the energy of my team was still apparent in extra time and I felt it made a difference.
“Sometimes that can come from mentality as well and it’s testament to all my staff and players for being so strong in those last moments.
“There wasn’t a lot in the game, but we’ve won a very tight match and I’m delighted.”