Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes believes his Reds have not received the credit they deserve for taking the challenge to Celtic this season.
The Dons, who face St Johnstone in Perth tonight in the first of their final five games of the season, are eight points behind Ronny Deila’s side and could still clinch the title if the Hoops stumble over the closing stretch.
McInnes’ men look set to surpass the 74-point haul they achieved last term – a record points tally for a non-Old Firm side – and the Aberdeen manager feels his players have punched well above their weight.
He said: “I’m not looking for praise – but the players do not deserve criticism. It’s something I feel strongly about.
“I hear people saying Rangers now need to spend millions to bridge the gap with Celtic, no one really questions that fact.
“But, at the same time, Rangers have already got three times the budget we have, yet we are portrayed as having blown it.
“We’ve been criticised for not sustaining it. We are the one team who has provided the challenge to Celtic this last couple of seasons. The players deserve a lot of credit for that. We are really stretching everything out of these boys.
“Yes, there will be times when you look back at games we should have won. I’m not saying we are without criticism.
“The performances in the cups deserve criticism because we wanted to do better in those competitions.
“But over a 38-game season, this year and last, we are the side which has picked up the responsibility of trying to put a challenge in.”
Aberdeen – who have offered out-of-contract right-back Shaleum Logan a new deal – are without Peter Pawlett and Adam Rooney tonight but captain Ryan Jack is back, while Barry Robson returns from suspension.