DEREK McInnes has insisted there is no title race this season and he still expected Celtic to stretch away at the top of the Premiership.

The Aberdeen manager believes that for the first title challenge in almost a decade to become a reality, the league would still have to be tight in March.

Aberdeen are three points behind the champions and Rangers, Kilmarnock are a place above them and Hearts three points behind.

However, McInnes said: “I don’t think there is a title race. I’m not sure anyone can say that, even if we would all want that. After 21 games it shows there is a real credibility at the moment, but it falls short of a real title race.

“If we get to March and April and there’s still congestion at the top, then you could say with certainty that there is a title race on then. It’s easy to have a good couple of months in this league. But there have been enough good teams over 21 games which is why it’s right. It is exciting.

“I think Celtic are the most likely to stretch away but every team is finding it difficult to get away and get those winning runs going.

“Where we are is where we normally tend to be in terms of our points tally. We are better than some years, maybe a bit behind compared to others. It’s that Celtic have came back to us but that’s not to say Celtic have deteriorated; it’s more other teams are making it difficult.”

McInnes believes Aberdeen will be better in the second half of the season and he is getting injured players such as Mickey Devlin back, plus there will be a left-back and attacker signed during this window.

Aberdeen’s best period came in December and the manager hopes his team can pick up where they left off before the break.

McInnes said: “I think the potential would be more than we showed in the first half of the season. It’s been more challenging this season than in previous years and that goes for most teams, because the league is stronger.

“We also have challenges within. We want to carry more of a goal threat, which we have had recently. We had to deal with a few injuries but now it’s like making a couple of new signings. Mikey Devlin is back, we coped without Gary Mackay-Steven through December when we had nine games, Tommy Hoban is coming back.

“I feel as if we will be stronger as a squad. Some of the younger ones we’ve found out more about, Connor McLennan did great for us, and we’ll try to be as competitive as we can.”