Peter Leven reveals Aberdeen FC penalty confirmation from fourth official as Joe Hart mind games work on Ryan Duncan

Aberdeen’s agonising Scottish Cup semi-final defeat proved they are ready to hit new heights under incoming boss Jimmy Thelin.

Interim manager Leven expressed pride in the Dons’ display after they went toe-to-toe with holders Celtic in a Hampden epic, drawing 3-3 after extra-time before losing 6-5 on penalties. It has been a dismal league campaign for Aberdeen whose Premiership safety is not yet fully assured ahead of their bottom six post-split fixtures.

But Leven has no doubts the players can rise to the challenge as they await the arrival of highly-rated Swedish coach Thelin from Elfsborg this summer. “I told them at the end of the game, that’s the standards for them now,” said Leven who gather the Dons squad in a post-match huddle while Celtic celebrated. “Pick your heads up for five massive league games. We refresh and we go again on Monday. Jimmy texted me last night wishing us good luck. I presume he’ll have been watching. He can see there’s a good squad here with heart and desire.

“I’m gutted because penalties is a terrible way to lose. But I thought the boys were brilliant. We were great today, we created very good chances against a very good team.

“I’m so proud of them. They all gave everything. It’s close on our 50th game of the season because we were in Europe and some of them haven’t been involved in that many before.

“You saw it, they were cramping up. We lost Bojan Miovski that way, they all ran themselves into the ground. We had desire, a great attitude and at times we were right at Celtic. Yes, in the first 20 minutes of the second half they pinned us back and we had to adjust to deal with that. But to come back time and again, to create the chances we did - well, it’s tough to end up losing.

“When I took over at first, we went toe to toe with Celtic at Pittodrie and drew 1-1, so I knew what was possible. “The boys have responded well to me from the off. There’s always been desire here, but inconsistency has killed us in the league. In the cups, we’ve been fantastic.”

Ryan Duncan and Killian Phillips failed from the spot for Aberdeen in the shoot-out which saw Dons keeper Kelle Roos pull up with cramp in the midst of the drama. “When than happened just before Ryan was going to take his penalty, we tried to pull him back from the box because it looked like Joe Hart was trying to get into his head during the delay,” said Leven. “In the end, Ryan missed but I have nothing but admiration for anyone who walks up and takes a penalty.”

Aberdeen looked to have been denied a penalty towards the end of extra-time when Cameron Carter-Vickers fouled Junior Hoilett. But Don Robertson and VAR spotted an apparent infringement by the Canadian on compatriot Alistair Johnston moments before.

Levein explained: “The fourth official said it was a penalty, but there might have been a collision before it, which is what seems to have been given in the end.”