Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes wary of another Scottish exit

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes was impressed with Europa League opponents Siroki Brijeg  during his scouting trip. Picture: SNS.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes was impressed with Europa League opponents Siroki Brijeg during his scouting trip. Picture: SNS.
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Derek McInnes knows the nation will be watching closely on Thursday when his men set out on their Europa League adventure.

With Scotland’s other two representatives in Uefa’s second-tier club tournament ousted before his Pittodrie side even got going, he accepts there is a pressure to deliver.

He fully intends to do that and, hopefully, push on to the group stages, but he also understands the difficulties his counterparts at Rangers and St Johnstone faced.

“There is disappointment at Rangers and St Johnstone going out,” said McInnes. “It was a surprise but it can happen. When you are drawn against someone no-one has heard of, people think it is a foregone conclusion but, when you dig deeper, it becomes clear it is a bit more of a challenge.”

Forced to wait until the previous stage was concluded to learn their second-round opponents, McInnes had both the Kazakhstan team Ordabasy and the ultimate victors NK Siroki Brijeg scrutinised, and he knows the magnitude of the task ahead of them.

“We split the staff up to concentrate on both teams. The Bosnians were under my remit and I was very impressed. They were very impressive across the two ties and looked comfortable in Kazakhstan. The tie was not over but I thought they would be good enough and organised enough to go through.”

A goalless draw was enough to safeguard Siroki’s 2-0 advantage from the first leg as they comfortably got into their stride.

Aberdeen, though, head into Thursday’s home encounter shy of competitive action and lacking obvious replacements for Jonny Hayes, pictured, and Niall McGinn, whose pace and ball-carrying ability can help stretch games, especially against well-organised teams in Europe. It is a familiar story for Scottish teams, says McInnes.

“Tommy Wright is keen to add more players and that’s the whole issue we face of trying to be as ready as we can after a short break,” he added. “It’s difficult to be proper game ready to deal with these ties and sometimes it doesn’t take a lot for the performance level to dip and for a team to be knocked out.

“In recent years we’ve had the benefit of being in a settled team, which has made the short period less of a factor, but this year is a bit different as we’re putting a new side together and trying to get it to gel as well as being game ready.

“But there is no doubt Rangers, St Johnstone, ourselves and even Celtic, for that matter, are not at 100 per cent for these ties. We hope we can build towards that and, while we have got through the early rounds in the last few years, bar one round, every round has been difficult whether it was Groningen, Rijeka or the Macedonians. They were tough ties.”

Having studied Siroki, McInnes says he was reminded of his first Aberdeen team, with good organisation and energy in the middle of the park. Dangerous on the counter-attack, they benefit from nippy wingers and create and score goals. He is also wary of their main striker. “Their striker has good size and experience and because of the pace around about him he is a very important player for them. Without talking too much about individuals their biggest strength is their team. Ordabasy score a lot of goals in Kazakhstan but they didn’t threaten and it was the Bosnians who looked more likely to score on the counter-attack.

“First and foremost we look after Aberdeen but we feel as if we have performed well enough in the past few seasons. We’ve gone out to a level of team where there is no shame, but we have to find a way of getting through those ties when they are finely balanced. There’s no extra responsibility on us to represent Scotland, but we certainly always feel a responsibility. We need to try to get through this tie.”

Which is where their consistency on the domestic stage and subsequent regular involvement in this competition comes in. “I actually feel the Almaty and Maribor games were so finely poised and we were unlucky to go out, but we can take confidence from the fact we 
were in both ties and use that experience.

“The boys here have the benefit of having been involved in Europe in recent years and the experience of dealing with different pitches, teams, conditions and referees will help us get the desired result. But we will need to bring a good level of performance to get through this initial tie.”