Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes says his team have to be ruthless in attack and solid at the back to beat Celtic tomorrow.
Neil Lennon’s beleaguered Hoops visit Pittodrie on the back of consecutive losses to Rangers in the league and AC Milan in Europe. A Reds win would see them draw level on points with the visitors in the Premiership.
McInnes, knowing these are the games which can define Aberdeen’s season, is demanding an improved performance from the season-opening 1-0 loss at home to Rangers, where his side “fluffed their lines”.
He said: “We’re judged against the Old Firm and have been for a while.
“It’s clear they’ve got many advantages over us, but what we want to make sure, when they come to Aberdeen, is we give them a tough game.
“We felt as though we fluffed our lines in the first game of the season – we didn’t look ready.
“When you play against the better teams in this league, you have to do so much right.”
The Dons manager isn’t getting hung up on the opportunity to draw level with the visitors and stake a claim Aberdeen are in the Premiership title race with the two Glasgow sides.
But he wants the same kind of confident, attacking display which saw his team beat Hamilton 4-2 in midweek.
McInnes added: “The time for reflection on how good you are is at the end of the season. It’s an easy thing to say, but tougher to go and implement across the whole campaign.
“Some games are tougher than others. I’m pleased with how we are at the minute.
“The other night we weren’t perfect, but in terms of what we asked for after the Dundee United game, was a step up from that. Get more shots, more crosses, more bodies in the box.
“We scored four goals and could have scored more. A lot we asked for, we got from the team.
“We’ve been pretty solid throughout and we’re going to have to be ruthless at one end and solid at the other to get result. If we put that together we’ve got a chance.”
The Dons last home win against Celtic came in February 2016, while the last time they kept a clean sheet against the champions at Pittodrie was a 2-0 victory in December 2001.
Lennon has received plenty of criticism in recent days for the Hoops’ haphazard implementation of a three-man defence.
Rangers pressed ferociously and got at Lennon’s team out wide at Parkhead seven days ago.
Will McInnes follow a similar tactical blueprint?
He said: “Like every opponent, we’ll try and work with a system that suits us and will be able to deal with and cope when you don’t have the ball, but also be able to cause them problems, regardless of their system.
“I think you can get hung up on systems.
“The game’s about players. Certain systems can maybe help certain players, but it’s normally about the players’ performance.”
McInnes insists Celtic still have the “talent” to hurt the Dons with players who have been “over the course for a number of years”.
In terms of the team Aberdeen will field, wideman Jonny Hayes (groin strain) and Tuesday’s two-goal hero Ryan Edmondson (foot) are injury doubts after scans.
On Edmondson’s freak issue, the manager said: “Big Ryan as he came off the pitch he went down into the dugout, just the change of surface has affected the tendon on the bridge of his foot.
“He’s overstretched it and we thought he might have broken a metatarsal. It’s a painful thing, but he’s just hoping it settles pretty quickly.
“We’re just trying to get anti-inflammatories into him and then it’ll be his own pain threshold whether he’ll be ready for the game.”
Striker Curtis Main, who has been out with a thigh injury, returns to the squad.
One thing McInnes doesn’t want his players thinking too much about is next weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic at Hampden.
Victory tomorrow could bolster his squad for last season’s carried over last-four clash, he admits, but he added: “I think you’ve got to treat both games in isolation.
“There is no doubt that if we get a positive result and winning performance on Sunday, it gives us that bit more belief going into the game.
“But if we don’t get the result Sunday, we still have an opportunity the following weekend.
“Hopefully we can get the two results that we’re looking for.
“I think you can probably only really answer that after the two games. But it certainly wouldn’t do us any harm winning this one on Sunday.”