Europa League group stage is ‘holy grail’ for Aberdeen

Aberdeen's Joe Lewis will captain the club this season. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Aberdeen's Joe Lewis will captain the club this season. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
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Derek McInnes won’t take 
victory against Europa League opponents RoPS Rovaniemi
for granted but admits it’s more important than ever that Aberdeen make it to the group stage at the sixth time of 
asking.

The Pittodrie club’s manager approaches tonight’s first-round qualifier first leg against the team third bottom of the Finnish league with a raft of new additions to his squad.​

Once again that summer rebuild has had to be achieved without the ability to pay a transfer fee at a time when the board are trying to fund the £45 million needed to complete the new stadium and training ground at Kingsford.​

Aberdeen may have slipped out of the top three last season for the first time since McInnes took over in March 2013 but they only lost that position because of Kilmarnock’s 
superior goal difference.​

Now the aim is to continue the progress made in recent years by going beyond the qualifying rounds of continental competition for the first time since Jimmy Calderwood was in charge back in 2008.​

That would be another notable achievement for McInnes but the Dons manager insists there’s a lot more at stake than just personal prestige.​

He said: “Nobody is taking anything for granted but, if we can get through to the holy grail of the group stages, that would be significant for us, not only in terms of respectability for the club but also financially. We are trying to do so much at the minute in terms of keeping a team that is competitive, building a new training ground and building a new stadium. There is a lot money going out and we could do with any additional money coming in.​

“It is a realistic ambition for this club. It used to be you won two rounds to get into the group stage and I think that was the case the last time the club was in the group stage. ​

“To get to there [now] we need to beat four teams at a stage of the season where in Scotland teams are not at their best. We are hanging on to the belief we can be good enough to win these games.​”

McInnes has added former Scotland international Craig Bryson, the versatile Jon Gallagher from Atlanta United, midfielder Ryan Hedges from Barnsley, left back Greg Leigh and striker Curtis Main while Ash Taylor and James Wilson have returned to the club.​

Scott Wright is also back after last season’s loan at Dundee and likely to start this evening as Niall McGinn has still to fully recover from ankle surgery two months ago.​

McInnes is keen to add more, however. “I’d like to have a midfield enforcer who can give us a bit of everything,” the manager said. ​

The hope remains that Sunderland’s out-of-favour midfielder Dylan McGeouch will eventually fill that role despite the news that the Black Cats manager Jack Ross is willing to give the former Hibs player another chance to prove 
himself.​

The money raised by moving on Stevie May could help, with St Johnstone leading the race to sign the striker who joined Aberdeen two years ago for £400,000 from Preston North End but has struggled to score goals for the Pittodrie club.