WHEN Derek McInnes led his Aberdeen side to Hampden for the League Cup final of 2016, the men in red froze. This time around, they smell blood.

Two subsequent Hampden defeats to Celtic have followed since that 3-0 humbling, but they have been much tighter affairs, with a last-gasp Tom Rogic goal edging the Dons out in the Scottish Cup final later that season, before a spirited single-goal loss in this season’s League Cup final.

A win and a draw at Celtic Park have been earned in the interim period, as well as wins over Rangers at both Ibrox and the national stadium, meaning any inferiority complex the Pittodrie men may have had about facing the Glasgow giants in their own city has well and truly been laid to rest. Which is why McInnes feels it won’t be a seismic shock should Aberdeen inflict Celtic’s first defeat in 25 domestic cup games at Hampden this afternoon.

“My boys will fancy it,” McInnes said. “There is no doubt that they’ll fancy it and it’s important we have that as an Aberdeen team, going to Glasgow and having no trepidation about it. Just go there, play with the game, deal with the game, and let’s see where that takes us.

“The players will be aware Celtic are the favourites. But it would not be the biggest shock in the country for us to beat Celtic. Listen, they have huge advantages over us as a club and a squad but when the ball rolls it’s 11 boys v 11 boys – my best 11 against theirs. Let’s see how that plays out.

“My boys will fancy it, there is no doubt they will be fancy going to Glasgow and having no trepidation and playing the game and see where it takes us.

“We’re quite familiar with this and quite familiar with Hampden, so I think that’s a good thing. Nothing really seems too far removed from what we’ve done in the past. I think that side of it is good, that calmness to the week.

“I’m sure as the week progresses, the players have earned the right to feel excited about the game and anticipate it. The supporters have earned the right. You can feel an energy around the club ahead of the game and that’s no bad thing.

“It’s not easy getting to this stage of a competition, especially after one or two of the teams that we’ve played. We’ve got to make sure that we try and enjoy it, but I think we’re past the stage of just turning up at Hampden and enjoying being at Hampden. It’s about the result and the performance on Sunday.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we can deliver a performance to beat them. I’ve no hesitation about that.

“They’ve got fantastic players, good experience, a dressing room that is used to winning. But they can only play 11 and my 11 will be ready for the game.”

While McInnes’s comments suggest he feels his team are ready to break through the glass ceiling of defeating Celtic on a major occasion at Hampden, he doesn’t feel that Aberdeen’s progress as a club under his watch should be measured by finally adding a second trophy to the League Cup he claimed back in 2014.

“A lot of teams can be consistent for a period of months but we have done it for six years now,” he said.

“Only Celtic have delivered better than us and qualified for Europe every year, cup finals. My team has been very consistent for the last six years and that is testament to the good work from everyone at the club.

“All my staff, a good board, a good club trying to operate properly within our means. There are a lot of good things happening and it does not happen by chance. If you are knocking at the door for six years, getting into cup finals and into Europe, there’s a hell of lot of good thing work happening to do that. That’s what we have here.”