‘We went out of our way to wind Morelos up and it paid off for us’
IF they though it would draw a red-mist reaction from Alfredo Morelos, you’d better believe Aberdeen’s players would still be mercilessly targeting the Colombian striker for treatment.
So complete has been the temperamental transformation undergone by the Rangers star, however, that indulging in the dark arts simply doesn’t seem worth it any more.
Asked if he and his team-mates had deliberately tried to provoke Morelos in the past, Scott McKenna couldn’t conceal a smile.
‘Of course we did,’ replied the Dons defender. ‘The gaffer (Derek McInnes) was probably winding us up to make sure we wound him up. It worked a few times and it did benefit us.
‘His discipline has definitely improved. It is something we targeted last year. He seems to have tightened up on that aspect of his game. Now it’s up to us to try to stop him scoring, that is our job.’
Three of the five red cards shown to Morelos last season came in head-to-head clashes with Aberdeen. Baiting the bear was an obvious tactic that paid off.
Yet Scotland centre-half McKenna was also dismissed in one of those encounters — a reminder of the risks run when a contest becomes heated.
‘I tried to have a wee nibble back and I didn’t realise my feet were as high as they were,’ he recalled. ‘I got what I deserved. It was pure stupidity. I haven’t played against him this season but I just need to concentrate on myself.
‘I have to make sure I’m not doing anything stupid or getting myself sent off. I need to stay focused to make sure they are not scoring. Rangers have players all over the park who want to drag you out of position to make space for others.
‘Morelos will be doing the same to create space for Scott Arfield or any of the other midfield runners.
‘It is all about communication and keeping your shape as long as you possibly can.
‘He’s a handful the whole game and doesn’t give you a minute’s peace. Any time there’s a ball up to our defence he is always there, putting you under pressure, being a nuisance and holding the ball up. He is quick and strong, he has everything.’
Discipline will be key for both teams at Pittodrie tonight although, if he was being honest, Dons boss McInnes might not be too fussed about his players picking up a card or two.
That would be an improvement on their performance at Ibrox in September when Rangers ran out 5-0 winners.
Steven Gerrard’s side barely had to ride a tackle while doing so.
McKenna, who missed that misery in Govan, expects this encounter to be a return to type for what is traditionally termed as a powderkeg fixture.
‘I don’t know how many games I have played against Rangers. But there have been very few when both teams have finished with 11 men, whether it has been Morelos or anyone else,’ he said.
‘Ryan Jack also got sent off in one of the games at Pittodrie. So it is important we keep our discipline and don’t get sucked into anything stupid. There has been a rivalry for years and it boils over every now and again. We need to try to keep a lid on it.’
However, McKenna admitted McInnes had already ‘warned’ his players about the need to be more combative than they have been against both Rangers and Celtic this season, conceding nine goals without reply across two games.
‘We need to be on the front foot and far more aggressive,’ insisted the 23-year-old. ‘We need to impose ourselves rather than let them do what they want. We need to learn lessons from it. ‘We said that after the Rangers game and it happened in the Celtic game again (a 4-0 thrashing at Pittodrie in late October). That is twice now — and we can’t afford any more lessons. We need to show we have learned our lesson and we know what we are doing.’ McInnes insists he’s far from surprised to see Jack become Gerrard’s first choice in central midfield. The Dons boss says the 27-year-old just showing the same quality he did before switching from Pittodrie to Ibrox.
‘Jacko is the sort of player that would make any team better,’ he said. ‘I thought he was their (Rangers’) best midfielder — and I said that to Stevie as well.
‘He’s the type of boy who makes the national team better and he makes Rangers better as well.
‘We made a concerted effort to build the team around him and, when Russell Anderson stepped down as captain after our first year, we made him captain. I wanted to give him that added responsibility and he had our total trust, playing on the edge a wee bit.
‘There was talk that he was a bit more defensive-minded for us, but that was maybe down to us having a side with Niall McGinn, Jonny Hayes, Kenny McLean, Ryan Christie and Peter Pawlett as well.
‘It’s no surprise he’s flourishing, playing alongside a lot of good players as well. The evidence is there from Stevie that, when he picks his best team, Jacko is always in it. That is testament to the boy.’