Premiership Pittodrie date with Steven Gerrard’s new-look Rangers is perfect pick-me-up for Aberdeen after Europa League heart

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DEREK McInnes is hoping any sore legs and bad thoughts still lingering from their heartbreaking 3-1 aggregate defeat after extra-time to Burnley in Europa League qualifying will disappear the moment his players walk out at Pittodrie a little before 1pm today.

It is, after all, Aberdeen versus Rangers, a fixture which can on occasion make the Glasgow derby appear almost friendly. There was no love there in the first place for either set of supporters to lose.

In saying that, there will be a joint celebration of Neale Cooper, an Aberdeen legend despite his later move to Ibrox, before we get back to sheer hatred, bile and fun for the family.

And, let’s be honest, such bitterness has been known to get the best out of players, and after their 120 tiring minutes on Thursday night, the Aberdeen team will need every last drop of inspiration for a match which promises to be lively.

“With some of the fixtures, it would be more difficult to get up for on Sunday, but we’ve been dealt the hand of an early kick-off against Rangers and what a fantastic game that will be,” said McInnes.

“It’s a good game to motivate us and drag us out of any physical or mental lethargy and get going again. We asked a lot of them over the two games against Burnley. You have to do the yards and apply pressure and break quickly and put in a lot of high-speed work.

“The onus was on the likes of Gary Mackay-Steven, Graeme Shinnie, Niall McGinn and Lewis Ferguson to get back in and support over the two legs and it can take its toll. But that is the business we’re in and we’ll have to dust ourselves down and be ready again because we want to get off to a good start in the domestic campaign.”

McInnes believes in this Aberdeen team. Having spoken to him a couple of times this summer, it is obvious that the manager is confident there has been a marked improvement on last season’s squad which again finished second.

He said: “I felt over the two games and in pre-season that the squad can do well and the ovation the fans gave at the end at Turf Moor isn’t just in recognition of the players’ efforts in the last two games.

“There will also be a tinge of excitement that they’re watching a team that they enjoy watching and can do something, and I’m excited. People always talk about what you haven’t got and you need this or that and I get that, and we’ll try and bring in necessary support, but there’s enough here to be confident about.

“We’ve made some signings such as Stephen Gleeson, Lewis Ferguson, Chris Forrester and Tommie Hoban, but Michael Devlin and Sam Cosgrove seem like new players despite being with us last year and they’re bedded into the club.

“It’s got the makings of a strong game. Rangers will be in a positive mood after getting the job done and it’s been a strong start in terms of results from them so it will be two teams confident.”

Ridiculous as it may be, an awful lot will be read into today’s game – for both teams – in terms of performance and result. And McInnes knows this.

He said: “We will both be setting out to try and win all three points because it’s important to get that first win as quickly as possible. I just need to try and be as competitive as we can again. Wherever you end up is where you deserve to – apart from the first season when we finished third and deserved to finish second!

“When Hearts and Hibs came up it was said we’d be pushed aside and the same with Rangers, but we just need to do our work as best we can and be competitive.

“The league will be stronger again this year; with Steven Gerrard coming in, Rangers will improve and he’s a very impressive guy with good signings. Hibs will be stronger again, as will Hearts, and it would be difficult to say Celtic won’t be stronger again.

“The challenge is for us to be that as well and make sure we’re in amongst it as it’s our job to win trophies and have nights and occasions we can cherish in Europe like Burnley in terms of atmosphere.

“We’ve got a way of working that helps us. We’ve never had the ability to spend money so it’s how we work as a club and a squad and a staff.

“We want to do those things better than anyone else, whether it’s preparation; video analysis. To be there for my players – we’ve always had a very strong, motivated bunch of boys. We have a close-knit group that has taken us a long way and we’ll lean on all those things to try and bridge the gap again.”

Cosgrove was excellent as the loan striker against Burley. He’s never going to be a 30-goal-a-season player but this raw, big lad will have an important part to play. Also, you wouldn’t mess with him.

McInnes added: “Sam has been thrown into a couple of games and done very well for us. In every game he’s started we haven’t lost over 90 minutes. He gives us an out with his physical size. We were quite English in our look on Thursday; we had to be big enough to deal with what Burnley threw at us.

“I’m confident Sam can score goals. We need another striker in to help him and Stevie May and have different options and ways of playing against different opponents.

“He did his job very well in the last couple of games. My chief scout spotted him and Carlisle were probably as surprised as anyone when we made the call. We were going to pre-contract him and do a cross-border thing at the end of the season but paid £20,000 up front with add-ons if he does well and we just viewed him as something different.

“If you can’t always bring someone better to your club it’s important to bring something different and he’s certainly that.”



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