Aberdeen v Rangers: Key points at stake in eagerly-awaited return

Aberdeen and Rangers meet on Sunday in a fixture that has been absent from the calendar for almost five years.

With the Dons and Celtic the only clubs never to have lost top flight status, it is the longest supporters have waited for one to come along.

When Maurice Edu cancelled out a Kari Arnason opener at Ibrox 56 months ago, no one foresaw the length of time that would elapse without one of Scotland's headline matches.

A powder-keg head-to-head that is, according to some Ibrox legends, as intense as anything a Rangers-Celtic game conjures up.

Rangers captains of the past Terry Butcher and Barry Ferguson talk of "hatred" and "nastiness" but, with the game a sell-out, Aberdeen fans are clearly relishing a return.

Dons raising their game?

Many in light blue have accused the Dons of "raising their game" against Rangers but the men in red prevailed just once in the last 13 games against them before the Ibrox club's 2012 financial implosion.

However, those matches came before manager Derek McInnes arrived at Pittodrie to steer the club to the upper echelons of the table with Aberdeen a very different animal under the former Ibrox midfielder.

Rangers striker Kenny Miller
Rangers are well on top in recent meetings between the sides

Despite Walter Smith's presence, Pittodrie tended to be an unhappy hunting ground throughout his second spell in charge with the Ibrox legend winning just once in the Granite City after replacing Paul le Guen.

"Aberdeen always have a good attitude towards games against Rangers," Smith declared after a 1-0 loss in the north east in 2009.

No doubt a thinly-veiled barb given they had won just twice in their previous 12 league games that season.

Home advantage?

Pittodrie has been a struggle for many Rangers teams, but in particular the ones that came up against Alex Ferguson's all-conquering side.

Incredibly, during Ferguson's eight-year tenure at Aberdeen, Rangers could only muster one single victory at Pittodrie.

Ferguson would lose just five times to Rangers in league games, with four of those at Ibrox.

Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen enjoyed a great record against Rangers
Ferguson's Aberdeen enjoyed a great record against Rangers

If Rangers' Pittodrie record in the late 1970s and early 80s was dreadful, Aberdeen's record at Ibrox since the early 90s has been atrocious.

Brian Grant and Eoin Jess were the heroes in a 2-0 win in Govan in September 1991. It was Aberdeen's first visit to Ibrox since they lost by the same score-line four months earlier, costing them the Premier Division title.

But they haven't won there since. That's 42 visits, 0 victories.

And it's not just against Rangers they have struggled against at Ibrox as that figure includes a League Cup semi-final loss to Celtic and in the last four of the Scottish Cup to St Johnstone.

Ferguson led Aberdeen to 17 league victories over the Ibrox club and since his departure, almost exactly 30 years ago, the Dons have beaten Rangers on 18 occasions in top flight matches, with 11 different managers.

Tempestuous

When seeking the answer to the why this fixture is so heated, one of the main reasons is simple and sporting, very few head-to-heads between the pair have been meaningless over the years.

From the 1970s, this has been a heavyweight clash, with silverware often up for grabs.

There have been several bad-tempered encounters over the years
There have been several bad-tempered encounters over the years

The list of on-pitch incidents are lengthy. Particularly those involving John McMaster and Willie Johnston and Neil Simpson and Ian Durrant.

Robbie Winters being pelted with coins, Fernando Ricksen's kung-fu kick on Darren Young, Kyle Lafferty feigning a head-butt from Charlie Mulgrew.

It is a game that requires vigilance and cool heads on and off the pitch.

Renewed acquaintance

During Rangers' four-year rise to the Premiership they faced many top flight opponents along the way.

Aberdeen were not one of them.

And despite the headlines and goading that will continue in the build-up to this eagerly-awaited meeting, it is worth noting that it is an important league game.

Both have designs on challenging Celtic for the title yet they both find themselves four points off the pace having played a game more than the champions.

Regardless of the sub-plots, this may be a game neither can afford to lose even this early in the campaign with a potential 10 point deficit on the cards for the loser.

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