Dons boss Derek McInnes today praised “ridiculously good” Kenny McLean for his role in the Scottish Cup win over Kilmarnock despite knowing he would miss the semi.
The Scotland international picked up a yellow card in the first half of the quarter-final replay at Rugby Park.
That was his second caution of the tournament and the 26-year-old knew then he would be suspended for the showdown with Motherwell if the Reds won.
Aberdeen ultimately edged it 3-2 on penalties with McLean playing a pivotal role.
The midfielder hit the bar with a thunderous drive and netted an equalising penalty in extra-time to force the penalty shoot-out.
He then held his nerve to score the second spot-kick.
McInnes said: “McLean was ridiculously good even though he knew at half-time he was missing the semi-final.
“I had a word with him to make sure he was all right.
“He was just a wee bit frustrated that we were not passing the ball as well as we had hoped.
“But he scored a penalty, was influential, hit the bar and celebrated as much as everybody else.”
The pressure was on Aberdeen having slumped to a four-game streak without a win.
During that period the Reds had taken just one point from a possible nine in the Premiership.
Just four days before the replay the Dons had been held to a goalless draw at relegation battlers Partick Thistle.
McInnes insists he never questioned his squad’s ability to haul themselves into the semi-finals.
He said: “I have never doubted the character of my players as they are all honest, hard working boys.
“We had been searching for a big performance recently and a big result.”
Aberdeen now return to league duty on Saturday with a home clash against struggling Dundee.
They trail second-placed Rangers by five points in the race to finish runners-up.
McInnes hopes the Reds can use the cup result to revitalise their Premiership campaign.
He said: “We are searching for better performances, for better individual performances especially in those forward areas.
“That consistency is something we feel we still have to get.
“We haven’t beaten the Old Firm and that is a big result in the eyes of everybody at our club – to beat Rangers or Celtic.
“There has been that search for that big result to kick-start and give us that momentum again and sometimes the cups can give you exactly that.”
Skipper Graeme Shinnie, McLean and substitute Greg Stewart all netted their spot-kicks with Niall McGinn rattling the bar.
On-loan Newcastle United keeper Freddie Woodman saved three penalties.
“I am not psychic but I trusted Freddie to save a couple,” said McInnes.
“I was confident that all five would score and the guys behind them.
“It is not a lottery and I have been there myself – I have scored and missed in these situations.
“It is tough but the confidence of the players was evident.
“It was a proper team performance.”
The travelling Red Army made up 1,494 of the 8,998 crowd at Rugby Park.
McInnes paid tribute to the supporters.
He said: “We thank the fans for coming down and they were rewarded by seeing a fully committed and winning Aberdeen performance.
“It is always pleasing to reward that loyalty from your support.”