Mark Reynolds believes Aberdeen are ready to shrug off yet another European disappointment and once again prove to be Celtic’s biggest challengers on all fronts as they kick off their Premiership campaign against Hamilton Accies at Pittodrie today.
The Dons suffered more Europa League heartache on a controversial night in Cyprus on Thursday, when they crashed out at the third qualifying stage for the fourth year in a row. A lifeless 2-0 defeat was marred by Dons fans being involved in running battles with riot police after the game and the Apollon Limassol supporters nearly forcing the match to be called off due to their insistence on letting off flares, firecrackers and smoke bombs.
After that setback and this summer’s departure of major players such as Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn, the Dons squad could, perhaps, be forgiven for being on a downer ahead of the new campaign. However, speaking after that game in Cyprus, Reynolds is convinced Aberdeen will still be the best of the rest and are looking to beat last season’s record points total of 76 points.
He said: “We still regard ourselves as Celtic’s biggest challengers.
“We will go into the league feeling confident. We’ve lost a few players, but I think we have shown in these European games that we have recruited well and we are a good team again who will cause problems for clubs.
“We’ll go forward and keep trying to build, just as we have over the last three or four years. You always look to improve and although you can’t say how it’s shaping up till later in the season we will be giving that our best.
“This team is as strong as it has been for a few years and the new players are gelling well. We are a bit different without Jonny and Niall but, with Greg Stewart and Ryan Christie, we have something different and they are match-winners too.
“We are feeling confident and the European games have always stood us in good stead going into the league campaign. Sometimes when you are going into friendlies and even the League Cup games they are still not top games against the type of opposition we have been playing.
“If you are talking about trying to beat that points tally, we will need to win as many games as we can. If we want to be up there challenging as close to Celtic and Rangers, Hibs and Hearts too we have to win most weeks,” added Reynolds.
“We need to dust ourselves down and get focused on three points again. The league campaign has come round and we want to be ready from the very start.”
Aberdeen blew a glorious chance to progress to the play-off round of the Europa League for the first time against an Apollon Limassol team who were eminently beatable.
Reynolds admits the players were furious with themselves for not winning the tie because he doesn’t believe the Cypriots were at the same level as the other teams who have eliminated them at this stage such as Real Sociedad, Kairat Almaty and Maribor.
He said: “It’s disappointing, sore and still raw. No disrespect to them but any time we have gone out it’s been against a bigger team.
“We’ve been here before, but we’ve always gone out giving it our best and showing exactly what we are all about. We showed that in spells against Apollon but we just didn’t show it enough. Both goals they scored – their first goal last week and first goal this week were poor defending from us rather than them cutting us open.
“Out of all the years we’ve been here, this was definitely our best chance of progression and I think anybody who has followed those campaigns would agree. Previously, we’ve played top European sides. Don’t get me wrong – Apollon were decent but they were beatable.
“I don’t think it becomes a psychological issue. You can just say that the teams we went out to before you’d say, ‘good side we just didn’t have enough.’
“This year we sat on the plane and felt we’d blown a real opportunity. We gave ourselves a real chance after the first leg and our attitude was that we were always going to need to go there and score.
“It’s not our style to sit back because we have players in our team who are going to create and score goals. We score more often than we don’t and felt we would score on Thursday.
“We had three or four good chances which we never took.
“On another night one of those would have gone in. We just couldn’t get that away goal.”