BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
KENNY McLEAN is adamant Rangers’ return to the top-flight has driven Aberdeen to greater heights this season.
The Pittodrie men produced a concerted title challenge against Ronny Deila’s Celtic last term, ultimately finishing in second spot ahead of Hearts.
By contrast, they go into the upcoming winter break in third place, trailing the Gers and with a chasm separating them and Brendan Rodgers’ revitalised Hoops side.
Nevertheless, McLean insists Derek McInnes’ men have improved this season, hailing a greater depth and quality within the squad, and he believes the Ibrox outfit’s presence in the Premiership has been a notable motivation.
He said: “We have definitely made improvements. With Rangers coming back up it was always going to be more difficult, but I think it brings out the best in players when you’ve got that challenge.
“I think that brings the best out of everyone in the league. It’s a very competitive league towards the top where we are. It’s a great league this year and I think Rangers coming up did bolster that.
“It’s a good challenge for us. Rangers above us – that’s what we are looking at right now and we are confident we can get there.
“We have definitely made improvements. Last year I think we were pretty comfortable in second. We gave it a go with Celtic until quite late on. But I think everyone strengthened this year – and we are no different. There is still more to come.
“I think we have a stronger squad. We have a lot of individuals but, as a team, we are playing really well just now. As a unit, we are very good defensively, we are strong and that’s what the gaffer has built over the last few years. Hopefully we can keep that together and push on.”
The Dons will now enjoy a warm weather winter training camp in Dubai as they “recharge their batteries”, and despite breaking their momentum of three successive wins, McLean is adamant the trip to the Gulf is coming at an ideal time.
He added: “People keep on mentioning the break coming at a bad time but it’s definitely needed. It’s seven games in December and it’s definitely demanding.
“It has been a tough first half of the season so we will go and recharge our batteries. A few days off then go to Dubai then come back and be ready for the Stranraer game.
“We will use that to our advantage and come back and hopefully pick up where we left off and get all the momentum back.”