Fiery fixture’s return appeals to McInnes
THIS summer in far off Astana, Kazakhstan, some of those few Celtic supporters who had made the arduous journey struck up a conversation with the Scottish press pack. After the usual questions about Celtic’s chances in Europe, one fan piped up with one from left field.
“When do Rangers go up to Pittodrie?”
There is real excitement and expectation about the return of a fixture that for years had become almost as toxic as the Old Firm. Some would argue even more at times. No wonder the neutrals, if you could call them that, were looking forward to the return of such a spectacle.
It goes back to Neil Simpson’s shameful tackle on Ian Durrant in 1988. Since then these games have witnessed some dreadful scenes in the stands at both Ibrox and Pittodrie.
“These people didn’t just dislike us, they despised us,” said Clyde manager Barry Ferguson this week as he recalled his trips to the north east during his days as a Rangers player.
But for all the nastiness, this fixture has been missed.
“I do think it is a game that both sets of supporters have been looking forward to,” said Aberdeen manager and former Rangers player Derek McInnes.
“Players prefer to play in front of full houses in games with a bit of edge to it, and I think this game is one of those. Everyone wants to be involved in it. It’s a significant fixture on the calendar, Aberdeen against Rangers. It probably gets everyone fired up.
“They’re a good side, they had an impressive performance the other night when the beat Queen of the South. Rangers have got a lot of quality, having invested heavily in a squad that already looked good in the Championship, to consider them anything but a tough nut to crack would be wrong.
“I don’t know about us being favourites. I can’t go and spend £2m or £3m and pay the wages they do. But we always feel we can win, especially at Pittodrie. Sunday is no different.”
While McInnes may not have the financial backing of opposite number Mark Warburton, he has enjoyed tremendous backing from the Pittodrie faithful. And while it might be
reasonable to assume that anyone coming in to Pittodrie with previous ties to Rangers can find it takes time to endear themselves to the Aberdeen support. this has not been the case with McInnes.
Perhaps this is down to the fact that the former Ibrox midfielder rarely speaks about his time as a player at Ibrox.
“It has never, ever been mentioned [his time at Rangers],” he said. “I had been 13 years away from Rangers and played for so many clubs after that. For me it has never been an issue to be honest. I’m never really asked about it. This is probably the first time I’ve been asked about.”
What has been mentioned this week is that Aberdeen’s game with St Johnstone was moved to a Thursday two days after Rangers played Queen of the South in their tie.
“Look, it’s easier to move Aberdeen-St Johnstone than it is Celtic and Rangers,” said McInnes. “Celtic are in Europe next week so that’s different.
“It’s not right that Rangers have 48 hours more going into a league game. That shouldn’t be. Twenty four hours is usually the norm. It’s wrong but it is what it is. The issue has been mentioned.
“The players won’t be tired; it’s the preparation. We’ll get players in for massages, ice baths and the like. Look, we will be ready.
“It’s not as if we are feeling sorry for ourselves. The bounce we get from beating St Johnstone, and add to that we have a semi-final to look forward to which will light a fire under our supporters.
“We have had a couple of late wins and they are the best kind of wins. They really are. It tells you a lot about your team.”
If Aberdeen do get a goal, a late winner or otherwise, then chances are Adam Rooney will be involved. Having come off the bench to get the game’s only goal against St Johnstone, the Irishman has been happy for Rangers to take some of the limelight off his team so far this season.
“We just focus on ourselves,” said Rooney. “Rangers being back in the league draws some of the attention away from ourselves but it doesn’t bother us.
“We want to get as far as we can in each competition. The cups are something we need to aim to win. We didn’t do too well in them last season. We now have a semi final and a big game with Rangers to look forward to. Hopefully, we can now go out and take the three points.”
SOARING: dam Rooney came off the bench to score against St Johnstone.