Aberdeen keeper Joe Lewis set on a Celtic cup final shutout
A clean sheet, Aberdeen’s first in nine games, heartened Lewis far more than the six goals the Pittodrie side rattled past Partick Thistle. This prolific bout of scoring follows matches earlier this year in which they hit seven goals against Dundee and Motherwell within a matter of weeks.
But Lewis believes what happens at the other end could be key to Aberdeen’s chances of upsetting Celtic in tomorrow’s Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park – and he might well be right.
While Aberdeen carry a clear threat up front they’ve not given themselves a chance to prosper against the Parkhead side in five meetings to date this season, conceding 12 times.
In the most recent of those fixtures, the 3-1 defeat earlier this month, they lost all three goals in the opening 11 minutes. At the League Cup final at Hampden in November, a perhaps more relevant reference point given tomorrow’s venue, Aberdeen were two down and out of contention by half-time.
Keeping Celtic out for as long as possible is the recipe for success. So Lewis won’t apologise for preferring to concentrate on what the defence did right against Thistle rather than applaud the half-dozen goals, which included a hat-trick by youngster Scott Wright.
Aberdeen hadn’t kept the opposition out since a 1-0 win over Inverness in early April.
“We always carry a good threat going forward and it was nice to get a clean sheet really,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming for us.
“They [Celtic] do carry a threat and like we have all said to each other in the dressing room we know we need to be at it for 90 minutes,” he added. “It is just making sure we don’t let our concentration slip. They’ve got good quality players and if you do give them opportunities and switch off then we know they will punish us. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen and we are at it for the whole duration of the game.”
The post kick-off collapse against Celtic is recent enough to prove helpful in that it stresses how Aberdeen need to be fully focused from the very start.
“Definitely, that is something we need to learn from,” said Lewis. “We need to start the game well because that will be important. The start will be massive. If we can play like we did in the last 75 minutes against them then we will give ourselves a great chance of lifting the trophy.”
Aberdeen haven’t made a habit of winning significant games in Glasgow in recent times. So another recent result is proving instructive in an encouraging sense.
The Pittodrie side’s 2-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox last midweek was their first at the stadium since 1991. Lewis claims that victory proved something to those who doubted the side’s mettle.
The charge that Aberdeen do not possess what it takes to win big matches in Glasgow has dogged the club going back to the last game of the 1990-91 season, when they lost to Rangers when needing only a point to claim the title. Despite signing only last year, Lewis is clearly alert to this historical baggage.
“Obviously the result at Rangers proved we can deal with the pressure of playing in big games and in front of big crowds,” said Lewis.
“Certainly when they scored their goal there was a lot of noise and a lot of pressure on us and we showed a lot of character to see the game out. We can take a lot of positives from that, yes.”
Lewis is particularly desperate to see Aberdeen win the trophy for the first time in 27 years. His father, Michael, has not been to see Aberdeen play all season after suffering a stroke last summer.
Lewis has dreamed of bringing a cup winner’s medal to him in Norfolk, particularly after being frustrated in this aim in November, when Celtic ran out easy victors.
Lewis wasn’t so inclined to drive more than 500 miles to present his father with a runners-up medal.
“He is out of hospital but he isn’t able to travel very far just now,” explained Lewis. “He has seen plenty of games on television and I have got him a code for RedTV as well. He watches all the games and highlights and follows me closely.
“It would be great to take a medal back down to him. He would love that.
“He used to come to the majority of my games. When I was a kid he used to drive me everywhere. It would be good to go back with a medal for that.”