ABERDEEN’s Graeme Shinnie knows all about special European nights at Pittodrie. Now the former Caley Thistle man is desperate to experience it for himself.
The Dons welcome big-spending Kazakhs Kairat Almaty to Scotland next week for the Europa League third qualifying round second leg, and they have given themselves a massive chance of getting into the play-off for the group stages after Kenny McLean’s all-important away goal in Asia gave them plenty of reasons for optimism in a 2-1 defeat.
They were up against a quality side who netted two quick, excellent goals by Mikhail Bakaev and skipper Bauyrzhan Islamkhan, but Aberdeen dug in and got their rewards, meaning a 1-0 home win next week will send them through.
Aberdeen were helped by the club splashing out £200,000 on a luxury jet to allow them to travel to Kazakhstan in relative comfort. Now Vladimir Weiss’s outfit will have to experience the marathon eight-hour journey next week for the Pittodrie return.
Aberdonian Shinnie has been used as a holding midfielder by manager Derek McInnes in Europe, but may revert back to a left-back role for the return. He cannot wait to taste a big night in Europe next week with the Dons’ stadium set to be a sell-out for the clash.
Shinnie said: “It could be a special night. The away goal has given us something to go on. We know we can do it with a full Pittodrie behind us.
“I know all about the big European nights at Pittodrie but it’s something I’ve never experienced for myself. I’ve got family and friends who have and I enjoyed the games we’ve had so far.
“I remember the Copenhagen and Bayern Munich games. I wasn’t at them, but I watched and saw the amazing crowds and the atmosphere. Hopefully it will be like that next week. It’s up to us because we know the fans will be right behind us. The spirit and belief is in the squad. We just need to prepare right and it will be down to what happens on the night.”
The 23-year-old summer arrival at Aberdeen insisted their sluggish start in Almaty had nothing to do with the exhausting trip to Asia across five different time zones.
He said: “I don’t think the journey had anything to do with the way we started. The preparation was good, everything was spot on. Credit to the club, they did everything right and we could not complain about anything.
“It was just a slow start. It was similar in Croatia against Rijeka and it’s something we need to sort out. Once we got to grips with them we were much more in the game… and Kenny’s goal was crucial.
“It was pretty tough out there. Maybe we sat off them a bit too much in the first half and gave them too much time.
“You can’t allow guys like Anatoly Tymoshchuk to do that. Maybe we showed them too much respect in the first 20 minutes. But we managed to get further up the pitch as the game went on and put them under pressure.
“The tie is still in the balance. The away goal gives us a great chance going into the second leg. They are a good team. They started really well but we didn’t start that great. We put ourselves in a difficult position. But the away goal put a different slant on things. We have every chance now.”
However, the prospect of an exciting European night will have to be put to one side for now because Aberdeen must recover quickly from the venture to Kazakhstan and be ready for tomorrow’s Premiership opener against Dundee United at Tannadice. McInnes has built a strong squad to cope with European involvement and he will be keen to avoid a repeat of last season’s first game of the league campaign – when United won 3-0 at Pittodrie.
Shinnie slotted into McInnes’s side effortlessly and has looked comfortable in both positions he has occupied. He says a flurry of big games so early in the season has helped him settle.
“It’s been great so far,” he said. I have settled in quickly – but it’s an easy dressing room to come in to. It’s been easier with the games coming so thick and fast and I’ve been right in the thick of it. The boys have been different class with me.”