There haven’t been many occasions this century that a non-Old Firm team have been single digits to lift Scottish football’s top trophy, but Aberdeen fully merit their billing as 8/1 second favourites to win the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Derek McInnes has done a spectacular job in his two-and-a-half years at Pittodrie, inheriting the Dons in eighth place, guiding them to third in his first full season, being “best of the rest” by a ten-point margin in his second and now setting the pace in blistering fashion in the third.
There was only one mark against the former St Johnstone and Bristol City manager’s record and that was, as he readily admitted, results against Celtic. Eight Premiership meetings across 2013/14 and 2014/15 yielded seven defeats, 20 concessions and a solitary victory.
So as brightly as Aberdeen had started this campaign – and they were admirably serene in beating Dundee United, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Dundee and Partrick at the loss of a single goal – none of those sides finished higher than fifth last term.
They would need to show what they could do against the champions before anyone overdid the excitement and, if you saw what happened on Saturday, you will know that the foundations have now been laid for what has the potential to be the most intriguing title race in at least a decade.
A 35th-minute Leigh Griffiths penalty had the home fans fearing more of the same, and the buzz of Adam Rooney’s second-half equaliser from the spot was killed shortly afterwards by star turn Jonny Hayes’ harsh sending off.
That Aberdeen still found a way to win, courtesy of Paul Quinn’s 86th-minute tap-in from a Niall McGinn free-kick suggests that they might just be the real deal. Six triumphs from six marks their greatest ever start, and more importantly puts them two points clear of Celtic with a game in hand.
The Dons’ 75 points last season was a record for a non-Old Firm club, confirmation that they were on the right path, and though their 17-point deficit to the Bhoys sounds like a lot, it was the consequence of losing all four encounters with Ronny Deila’s side, affecting a 24-point swing.
If McInnes’ men were to prevail in three of the four head-to-heads in 2015/16 – and they are already one-for-one now – and perform as adeptly against the rest of the division again, they would be in the ascendancy.
It might not even take three wins over the Hoops to make history though, as that 17-point gap was misleading, a by-product of Aberdeen slacking off with nothing to play for in their four May fixtures and earning only one point.
At the end of April, with 34 matches played, there were a mere eight points between them, and the outsiders just turned six of those on their head at Pittodrie. It really, really, really could happen!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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