Gerrard has not held back on criticism of his players and declared, in the aftermath of the latest setback, that he was too angry to speak to them at that stage. It is tempting to see this is the reaction of the formerly gifted footballer who is now in charge of players who cannot hope to match his talent, but the former England captain has also been adamant that he has not asked for performances that are beyond the squad’s capacity.
Their consolation in the Scottish Premiership is that they have displaced Aberdeen – who achieved runners’ up status in the four most recent seasons – and the gap between the two teams is the same as that which divides Celtic and Rangers. Aberdeen’s weakness is, oddly, at home, where they have won only once in eight appearances since December 18.
On the road, they have won seven and drawn one of eight fixtures, the three most recent of which have been against the Old Firm pair, with a 1-1 Scottish Cup draw against Rangers at Pittodrie followed by a goalless league outing against Celtic that saw the champions drop points at Parkhead for the first time this season.
Moreover, their success at Ibrox was accomplished without the suspended Sam Cosgrove and the injured Gary Mackay-Steven, while Greg Stewart was confined to the bench because of a fitness concern. As the Dons’ manager, Derek McInnes, pointed out, the three would likely have been his attackers had they been available.
In their absence the goals which sank Rangers were scored by Connor McLennan – one of three teenagers in the side at Ibrox – and the veteran Niall McGinn, who fastened on to a misplaced pass by Glen Kamara to score the opener two minutes into the game. We showed great maturity and composure to put on a performance like we did,” McGinn said. “We knew we’d have to take our chances – I’ve read the pass and took it well – but, more importantly, we’re through to the next round.
“We’ve finished above Rangers in the league and, on the road this season, we’re unbeaten in eight games. To see out the game with a second goal was a bit of a cushion. They threw everything at us but we were solid, from Stevie May through to Joe Lewis.”
In the semi-final at Hampden Park, Aberdeen will meet Celtic, who beat them in the Betfred Scottish League Cup final at the same venue in December. “We want to go a step further – we’ve got another opportunity to get to a final and there’s no bigger task than beating Celtic,” McGinn said.
“For the young lads like Dean Campbell and Connor McLennan – even Max Lowe and Dom Ball – to play in front of a packed house is a great learning curve. For us older guys, to see that is great for Aberdeen in the future. Nights like Tuesday they will always remember and take confidence from that.”