Derek McInnes has challenged his Aberdeen stars to prove they belong on the big stage by beating Celtic after admitting his side “fluffed our lines” in the curtain raising flop to Rangers.

The Dons boss is desperate to end an eight-game losing streak against the Hoops in the north east.

Victory would see rejuvenated Aberdeen draw level with Neil Lennon’s stuttering side.

And after taking the opportunity to jump Hibs into third by beating Hamilton on Tuesday, McInnes has now urged his side to take the next step.

The Dons are hopeful of having Jonny Hayes and Ryan Edmundson fit after both hobbled off against Accies while Curtis Main and Mikey Devlin could return from injury.

And McInnes said: “When you’ve got opportunities throughout the season it’s important to take them. We had the opportunity to go third the other night, we took that. 

“All our recent previous games with Celtic, while we haven’t got the desired result, have been far closer.

“It’s important if it’s a tight game that we try and find a way to gain that advantage so that it’s us winning. To do that we’ll have to do an awful lot of things right.

“We’re judged against the Old Firm and have been for a while.

“It’s clear they’ve got many advantages over us but what we want to make sure, when they come to Aberdeen, is we give them a tough game.

“We felt as though we fluffed our lines in the first game of the season – we didn’t look ready.

“When you play against the better teams in this league, you have to do so much right.

“I’m pleased with how we are at the minute. The other night we weren’t perfect but in terms of what we asked for after the Dundee United game, was a step up from that. Get more shots, more crosses, more bodies in the box.

Aberdeen scored four against Hamilton

“We scored four goals and could have scored more. A lot we asked for, we got from the team.

“We’re going to have to be ruthless at one end and solid at the other to get result. If we put that together we’ve got a chance.”

Confidence is flowing through this Aberdeen side who swept Accies away with an 18-minute four-goal first half salvo.

McInnes continued: “I do think the way the team has been since the start of the season is far closer to the team I want to watch and want us to be, as opposed to last season where it really was a struggle at times to find a way.

“We have a lot of players playing with speed and freedom at the top end of the pitch.

“We’re scoring goals, and that’s despite being without our top goalscorer for the last couple of seasons.

“The fact we’re getting Sam back should hopefully help matters as well. We’re encouraged by the start, but it is only a start and we’ve still got to improve.

“I look at the players Celtic have and we could face on Sunday, they’re good players. Guys who have been over the course for a number of years.

“They’ve had a tough time of it in the last couple of weeks, but sometimes that happens in football. You don’t always get it easy.”

Aberdeen face back-to-back clashes against Celtic with the held over Scottish Cup semi final up seven days after tomorrow’s Pittodrie clash.

But McInnes said: “You’ve got to treat both games in isolation. There is no doubt that if we get a positive result and winning performance on Sunday, it gives us that bit more belief going into the game.

“But if we don’t get the result Sunday, we still have an opportunity the following weekend. Hopefully we can get the two results that we’re looking for.”

Meanwhile Dons winger Ryan Hedges is determined to catch Ryan Giggs’ eye on the big stage - and force his way back into the Wales squad ahead of next year’s European Championships.

The 25-year-old said: “Every player wants to play against the best teams and Celtic are champions. We are going into it full of confidence after a good run of results and there’s no reason why we can’t take three points.

“Every season I set myself a few goals and the aim is the make the Euro squad.

"That was the target when I signed here and the competition being postponed means it remains an incentive now.

"Hopefully I can get a few trophies along the way at Aberdeen which would be great.”