Team to feed off fans’ passion, says Derek McInnes
Derek McInnes is confident the Aberdeen supporters are well-versed enough to know the score this evening as their side seek to overturn a 2-1 first-leg defeat against Kairat Almaty.
The two stars signifying European trophy success above the Aberdeen crest on the training top the manager wore yesterday illustrate how this is a club steeped in European football. News the ground is heading for a sell-out is also proof of the enthusiasm whipped up by continental combat. McInnes remarked that it underlined the “special attraction” of Europe for Aberdeen.
With only 50 fans expected from Kazakhstan and Aberdeen selling tickets for the section normally reserved for away fans to home supporters, this could be one of the most partisan atmospheres felt in years at Pittodrie.
It helps there is so much to play for but even a fortnight ago, when the tie with Rijeka was reckoned by many to be already beyond doubt, just under 16,000 packed into the ground for the second-leg clash. Tonight could see nearer 20,000 inside the stadium for an assignment of the sort that tends to fire the imagination of the Pittodrie faithful.
“It will be a great sight for the players to walk out and see the whole South Stand full of Aberdeen fans as well,” said McInnes. “It’s important we get them involved and make sure it’s a good night.”
This is Aberdeen’s 30th season in Europe and they are desperate for it not to end now, with the Europa League group stages so tantalisingly close. Even making it to the play-off round would represent an achievement in itself. Aberdeen will be there providing they can score this evening and keep the visitors out.
“For any team to progress through the rounds it’s getting tougher and tougher,” said McInnes. “Apart from the Latvians [Daugava Riga] last year, we’ve not had an easy game. Every one’s been tough; the Macedonians [Shkendija], the Croatians, and last year we had Groningen and Sociedad. It’s been tough draws.
“So we’re having to do it the hard way. Like any cup competition, the level of opposition tends to get harder the further you move along. I think it would be an absolutely brilliant achievement even to reach the play-off round.
“For a Scottish team to reach the group stage would be a real achievement,” he added. “You would have to define that as a successful European campaign if we can get there.
“We want to try to enjoy this experience as much as we can. But we also put ourselves under pressure to go as far as we can.” But McInnes acknowledged it could be a long night, with extra-time and penalties a possibility. He also knows the fans could well have a significant part to play as he contemplated them again turning out in good numbers. “The reaction from the supporters has been great,” said McInnes. “Even last season we pulled in more than 50,000 in our three home ties in Europe. That shows you there’s a special draw and attraction about European football for our club.”
He had no intention of using yesterday’s pre-match briefing to insult the intelligence of these fans by making a plea for patience. The manager didn’t have to say that if the score was goalless at half-time it would mean things were still very much under control. But, clearly, he wants his players to be roused by the passion in the stands. It’s not for me to preach patience,” he said. “Fans are fans and they want to see their team winning and playing a certain way. I get all that. The desire for us to score is clear to see.
“We have to try to feed off the fans. In the two previous European games, the fans recognised that. With the level of opposition we’re facing, we’re not going to get it all our own way for 90 minutes.
“Sometimes it’s a different style, a different way of playing from the domestic games when we’re always on the front foot at home,” he added. “But we have to get a bit of what is good about us into the game and get the balance between attacking and defending right. That’s the case in any game but none more so against a team like this who can punish you.”
McInnes believes it will partly be a battle of wits and tactics, although, as is often the case, the result will likely depend on whether the best players can play to their potential on the night itself.
In the visiting side’s case, much will depend on their veteran Ukrainian star Anatoliy Tymoshchuk.
While for Aberdeen, skipper Ryan Jack will be a fulcrum in the middle of the park, as will Kenny McLean, the scorer of a potentially priceless goal in Almaty a week ago.
“Top performances from players normally separates teams in the end,” said McInnes. “Normally if you win a game the perception is you’ve picked the right team, but that’s not always the case. Individual players can have big moments and take their chances. Sometimes that’s the difference.”
The home fans barely had the chance to become edgy a fortnight ago, even after Aberdeen lost two quick goals at the start of the second half against Rijeka. It meant the Croatians were a goal away from equalling the aggregate score after Aberdeen’s commendable 3-0 victory in the first leg.
But Niall McGinn’s goal just a minute after Aberdeen went two goals down soothed fears and a further strike from Jonny Hayes settled things. Hayes is rumoured to be McInnes’ only injury doubt, having not trained yesterday.
The manager would confirm only that he has fitness concerns over one likely starter. Hayes was withdrawn early in the win over Dundee United on Sunday.
But they are otherwise in decent fettle ahead of this latest challenge in a season in its supposed infancy. Tonight’s game is only Aberdeen’s seventh of the campaign, but, in terms of miles travelled, they have already put in a shift and a half.
Of course, now it is Kairat’s turn to endure the near-10,000 mile round-trip from Almaty to Aberdeen, and they were further inconvenienced by a delay in their flight taking off. The party did not arrive at their hotel in Aberdeen until five in the morning yesterday.
But McInnes suggested the Kazakhstan side should be getting used to such long-haul adventures by now. He is confident they will have adapted to the new time zone by kick-off this evening on a night when Aberdeen seek to turn the clocks back.
Not since they overcame a 2-0 first-leg defeat to Hungarians Ujpest Dozsa in 1983/84 have they turned round a first-leg deficit in Europe. Should Aberdeen manage this feat tonight, they are guaranteed an appreciative audience.