Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes wants to end 'strong year' on high

Aberdeen remain eight points behind Celtic after a win over Partick Thistle
Aberdeen remain in second place behind Celtic after a win over Partick Thistle

Manager Derek McInnes wants Aberdeen to end a "strong year" on a high note with victory over Hearts on Saturday.

The Dons are Premiership leader's Celtic closest challengers - eight points behind, having finished runners-up in the past three seasons.

In this calendar year, McInnes has overseen 33 wins, four draws and 13 defeats in all competitions.

"I think we need to keep reminding ourselves how good a year it has been for us," McInnes told BBC Scotland.

"There have been a lot of positives. We have qualified for Europe again, finished second, ran Celtic close in the [Scottish] Cup final."

McInnes, 46, was the subject of interest from Sunderland in June and from Rangers this month but chose to remain at Pittodrie, where he has been since March 2013.

"I was at the Christmas bash the other night and the chairman said it has been a challenging year for everyone at the club," he continued.

"I said 'I would hate to hear your speech when the club was finishing 10th and 11th in the league'.

"This has been a strong year. I think our points tally this season is way ahead of last year's (at this stage) and I think our wins in the calendar year is right up there with any team in Aberdeen's history, barring one or two years.

"So it has been a good season and it is up to us to finish the year off with another three points at home to Hearts."

Aberdeen ended 2016 with a 1-0 win at Tynecastle to go into the new year in third place on 37 points from 20 games.

Wednesday's 1-0 home victory over Partick Thistle takes the Dons on to 42 points from 21 outings.

Hearts, in fifth place, visit Pittodrie buoyed by a run of eight games unbeaten.

A glaring error from the officials, who failed to spot a goal for Hibs at Tynecastle in Wednesday's derby, means Craig Levein's side have also gone five consecutive matches without conceding.

"It will be tough because they have got another clean sheet and Craig has certainly got them going and put his stamp on them," said McInnes.

"But we are more than capable of getting the job done and hopefully we can get to 45 points before the break. That would suggest there is good work being done and we are looking to kick on in 2018."

Greg Stewart performed well in the 1-0 win against Partick Thistle
Stewart performed well in the 1-0 win against Partick Thistle at Pittodrie

Greg Stewart impressed against Thistle and McInnes is backing the on-loan Birmingham attacker to shine in the second half of the season.

The 27-year-old former Dundee player has scored just once in 19 appearances.

"Greg has started to find a bit more rhythm and consistency in his game," said McInnes.

"He flashed three or four crosses into the box early on and we have asked him to put more crosses in when he is in those wide areas, and also try to be that goal threat.

"I think he is capable of scoring more goals and if he gets one, I think he can go on a run. He backs himself, he is confident - like Ryan Christie - playing in tight areas."

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