Derek McInnes reckons his young players seizing the mantle at Aberdeen makes losing so many big players bearable.
Dean Campbell, Lewis Ferguson and Connor McLennan – all under the age of 20 – had starring roles in Aberdeen’s 2-0 win over Rangers last night, earning them a third consecutive Scottish Cup semi-final.
McInnes has had to replace Jonny Hayes, Ash Taylor, Ryan Jack, Kenny McLean and Ryan Christie in recent summers, while uncertainty hangs over the futures of Graeme Shinnie and Gary Mackay-Steven.
However, Campbell impressed again after being handed his first senior start at Ibrox, while McLennan bagged the second goal after Niall McGinn had put the Dons in front.
Losing numerous key figures from his squads has been painful for the Aberdeen manager but he cannot help but take heart from the performances from his fledgling stars.
He said: “Seeing the young lads in the dressing room – I’ve got shoes older than Ethan Ross and Dean. They deal with everything. It’s great for me to see that. I’ve had so many kicks in the stomach with players leaving in the last two or three years. It’s sore to take and difficult to replace them. The flipside of that is the encouragement you get from young players coming through.
“Dean did well. He’s a mature player for 17 and he will have learned a lot. He’s a technical player and likes to get his foot on the ball. Last night was about defending and being smart. These wee things are harnessing that experience and making them battle-hardened.
“I’ve maybe had better teams with arguably better players over my years here but I’ve never had the resilience and strength of character that these young boys are showing at the minute. The age of our team, I think it was an average of just under 25 on Saturday and maybe even younger last night. It gives me every encouragement and pleasure to see young players deal with that type of game.”
A third victory over the Gers in Glasgow this season earns the Dons a crack at Celtic next month, with the two sides meeting at Hampden Park for the second time this season. The Dons will have to do it the hard way to make a return trip to Mount Florida in May but McInnes sees no reason why it should be impossible.
He added: “We’ve got closer to them in the big games. We’re used to Hampden now. We’ve had a couple of real disappointments there but we’ve had some good performances in semi-finals. The fact we’re going back there for the third time this season – I feel my players are used to the surroundings, regardless of the opponent. Celtic will be firm favourites but I’m just glad we’ve got the opportunity to get the club into another final.”