Ryan Jack is confident that Aberdeen will succeed where Celtic, Rangers and Hibs have all failed in recent seasons when their European ambitions go on the line in Maribor this week.
History does not favour the Dons who travel to Slovenia for the second leg of their Europa League third qualifying-round tie on Thursday night after a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie last week. Maribor have claimed the scalps of Hibs (2010-11), Rangers (2011-12) and Celtic (2014-15) in their last three ties against Scottish opposition.
But Aberdeen captain Jack insists the time has come to halt that sequence and finally lead his team beyond the current stage of the Europa League.
Derek McInnes’ men have fallen in the third qualifying round in each of the previous two seasons, losing to Real Sociedad and Kairat Almaty, but are bullish about their prospects of going all the way to the group stage this year.
Jack, who was still at school when Aberdeen last reached the group phase of the Uefa Cup nine years ago, is optimistic they will overcome Maribor to book their place in Friday’s play-off round draw.
“There has been a lot made about the fact that no Scottish team has beaten Maribor in the last few years,” said Jack.
“Obviously you look into that because you realise they must be a good side if they are beating teams of the calibre of Celtic and Rangers, but I think we showed last Thursday that we can match anyone on our game.
“We are not putting any pressure onto ourselves because of that type of thing.
“We know we are good enough to get through the tie
“These are exciting times and we can take a lot of confidence from what we did last Thursday at Pittodrie into the away game and gave ourselves every opportunity.
“We are getting better with every performance, to be honest. As you get better, you get more confidence and belief and we can take it to Slovenia.
“From the way we train and the players we have in the team, it backs it up that we can score goals. Going to Slovenia, it is going to be a tough game and a hard match, but it’s one we are mentally and physically prepared for.
“It has been a while since we had a long run in Europe. Maybe the last couple of seasons, due to the draws we have had, it did make it tough for us.
“But this year we wanted to try to head into it with no excuses and meet the challenge head on.
“We are putting that demand on ourselves to get as far as we can and we believe that, with the squad we have, we can get to the group stages.
“But, of course, we realise playing Maribor is going to be difficult. I thought Maribor were a very good side, technically and tactically very good. But we played with passion and energy and we had chances.
“I believe we did enough to win the match and it gives us confidence. There is nothing to fear. Definitely not.
“Getting to the group stage, which takes eight games for us, would be unbelievable. It’s been a very tough challenge, but the demand is there to be met head on and try to get the better of the record that we have not been to the group stages for a long time.
“I was just a young player coming through the ranks back then and I was sitting in the stand watching.
“Those were great games for the club.
“Now we want to get there and we feel it’s our time to do that – big ties and big games against big European clubs at Pittodrie. We want to test ourselves at that level. This game on Thursday is a big stepping stone to get there.
“We do feel we have learned from the previous European campaigns. In the last few years, we have had some decent results against good sides. That shows we have the belief and the reputation that we can match anyone on our day.
“Now it’s the time to take that next step and put those demands on ourselves. We want to get as far as we can and we believe with the squad we have that we have a chance of getting to the group stage.”
Following their assignment in Slovenia, Aberdeen will open their Ladbrokes Premiership campaign with a trip to St Johnstone on Sunday and Jack believes they can improve on last season when they finished runners-up 15 points behind champions Celtic.
“We feel we have a strong squad and there is no reason why we can’t improve on last season,” he said.
“It is always tough at the start of every season. Teams strengthen but we have added too.
“Our main aim this season is to go and win another trophy for the club.
“A club the size of Aberdeen, with the support and fanbase, there are always expectations that they want a trophy. The players are no different. In the league campaign, we also want to improve on last season’s points tally and see where that takes us.”