Derek McInnes is left hoping for a favour from Celtic to ensure his proud record of qualifying for Europe with Aberdeen continues.
For five seasons in a row, the Dons have qualified for the Europa League, which started following the end of McInnes’ first full season in charge at Pittodrie.
Despite their 2-1 win over Hibernian on Sunday, it was not enough to extend that run as Kilmarnock beat Rangers 2-1 to secure third spot. Aberdeen are now waiting on the outcome of the Scottish Cup final, with a Celtic victory enough to put the Dons back into Europe again.
McInnes said: “My first game at Aberdeen was a 0-0 at Easter Road in front of about 6,500 fans. Hibs in the bottom six, Aberdeen in the bottom six, nil-nil and it was torture. It was brutal. There was nothing on it. We were just playing out a season for the sake of doing it.
“Yesterday we were still going to the wire, there was still something on the game. So we’re disappointed not to get to 70 points, which I feel is what guarantees you Europe. But in the cup competitions we’ve lost to Celtic in one final and Celtic again in a semi-final so nobody is dumping us out of cups that we shouldn’t be dealing with. We’ve worked really hard.
“Sometimes your reward comes from that European football and that gets you through the close season. I’ve just got to hope that, next weekend, Celtic do their job.”
McInnes pinpoints the three home games in February and March, against bottom-half sides Livingston, St Mirren and Hamilton, as pivotal to their hopes of automatic qualification slipping away.
He added: “Those three home games against Livingston, St Mirren and Hamilton when we only took two from nine, that creativity and the cheapness of losing poor goals has stopped us getting to our 70 points. If we had got to 70 points-plus, we’d have got our European spot and now we’re dependent on Celtic doing the job next week and getting into Europa that way.
“Ultimately we have to congratulate Kilmarnock but I’m still proud of my players’ efforts throughout the season.”
The inability to break those teams down looks to have cost Aberdeen and the constant changing of the team – due to injuries and suspensions – has not helped matters.
McInnes said: “The creativity has been an issue, like I said. When teams come up to sit in against us, we were just a bit short of that spark. But our away from, like when the home team come on to us like Hibs did yesterday, has been brilliant. We’ve done well on the counter – and actually should have done better yesterday. So we’ve still shown that we’re a capable team.
“When I look at those first two games of the season, the tie against Burnley, I had everyone fit – and I thought we looked a proper team. I thought to myself: ‘This is the best squad I’ve had at Aberdeen.’ But, every time we went to pick a team, there were four or five of that squad out at any given time. There have been reasons for it, I’ll take responsibility for it.”