Derek McInnes is not the type to waste time thinking “what if?” And Aberdeen’s success in getting past NK Siroki Brijeg last week means he isn’t encouraged to spend time thinking what might have been.
Sunderland, his summer suitors, host Celtic in a friendly this weekend as they step up their English Championship preparations. McInnes, meanwhile, plans to lead Aberdeen into the Europa League play-off round for the first time since he took over, and then, ideally, beyond. Such an opportunity was one reason why he chose to stay at a club where he says he has “unfinished business”.
Aberdeen are currently one round away from a potential tie against opponents such as AC Milan and Everton, providing these sides also survive a third qualifying hurdle.
McInnes’ side must first find a way past Apollon Limassol, whose potential for danger is obscured by a statistic that helps relay a tale of Scottish dominance over Cypriot opposition. In four European ties and eight games a Scottish club side have never lost to one from Cyprus.
Tonight isn’t the time to start.
Something McInnes has noted from three previous European campaigns with Aberdeen is that, while they have not won enough games at home, they have lost only once – against Real Sociedad.
But goals conceded at Pittodrie have still proved crucial in their last two exits at this same stage, at the hands of Maribor last season and Kairat Almaty 12 months earlier. Both home legs finished 1-1 draws.
McInnes rates Apollon Limassol as being more of a goal threat than either of these sides. He even places them above Real Sociedad, who beat Aberdeen 5-2 on aggregate three years ago, in that respect. They aren’t the moderate standard of Cypriot opposition Rangers, Dunfermline and Aberdeen themselves have beaten in previous years. The Pittodrie side defeated Nea Salamis Famagusta 5-0 on aggregate in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1990-91.
But Apollon Limassol, who have twice qualified for the Europa League group stage in recent years, are a very different proposition. McInnes expects them to want to impose themselves on the game, even in their away leg tonight.
“It should be a very open game, they’re definitely a couple of notches up from Siroki in terms of standard,” said McInnes yesterday.
As well as judging for himself after watching footage of their last-round win over Moldovan side Zaria Baltia, McInnes has listened to what Kari Arnason has had to say. The Icelandic centre-half played in Cyprus in the second half of last season and could make his second debut for Aberdeen tonight after re-signing for the club.
“After speaking to Kari, they are about five or six good level teams in that league and they always do OK in European competition,” he said. “And if we are talking about Apollon Limassol the fact is they have been able to get to group stages in the last few seasons and have beaten some more than decent sides in doing so, so we know we are up against a good side.
“We’ve come up against a decent level of opponents at this stage of the competition before, in Sociedad, Maribor and Kairat Almaty. But of all of them Apollon are probably the most attacking team we’ve played at this stage.”
The architect of their play is their Brazilian skipper Alex, one of seven South Americans in the squad. They also have a Scot, the Edinburgh-born midfielder Ally Reynolds.
“They have two raiding full-backs, two wide players who get in the box and a centre-forward who asks questions of the centre-backs,” reported McInnes. “They are a very capable team and they have goal threats all over the pitch and it is their captain who links it all together.”
But Aberdeen, too, have the potential to prove menacing in attack. In addition to the fact their goals proved so decisive, McInnes was glad to see Greg Stewart and Gary Mackay-Steven open their accounts so soon after their arrival in last week’s impressive win over Siroki.
He felt both needed to feel the love of the fans after enduring a frustrating season for their respective clubs, Birmingham City and Celtic, in the last campaign. “For whatever reason it didn’t happen for them,” said McInnes.
“It is important when the next step comes they get up and running quickly, get that confidence and show what they are as players.
“It was good for them to play a big part in the result last week and gain that acceptance right away. They know what is required to be here and both, along with Ryan Christie, have jumped on it really quickly this season.”
Meanwhile, it is understood Aberdeen remain interested in signing Shaun Maloney, who has been linked with the club throughout this summer.
The winger is currently receiving treatment for a groin injury but is a free agent after leaving Hull City. Talks are expected to begin again next week.