Derek McInnes has backed his Aberdeen side to win what he classes as a “semi-final” tonight in Cyprus and qualify for the play-off round of the Europa League at the fourth time of asking.
Aberdeen take a precarious 2-1 first-leg lead to the Mediterranean melting pot this evening in Larnaca when they face Apollon Limassol.
McInnes has led the Dons to five away wins in Europe, but they’ve fallen at the third qualifying round for the past three years. However the manager is convinced his team has what it takes to get past this hurdle.
He said: “We view this like a semi-final and we want to get to the final to give ourselves a chance of taking part in the play-off round.
“It’s very difficult to get to the group stages. It’s not how it used to be. The last time Aberdeen were in the group stages they played one two-legged match to get there. There are obstacles in our way but hopefully we can find a way to overcome Apollon Limassol and get into the play-off round. Progress is important. We are not thinking about the league or anything domestically. Our sole focus is on this game.
“It’s only half-time in the tie. The onus is on Apollon to score but we never go into a game not trying to score. It was more simplistic in Bosnia because we had to score a goal or we were out. For us, it feels like there’s work to do.
“In any second leg of a European tie, the dynamic of the game could change if you score a goal or lose one. You have to be ready for every eventuality. We are very comfortable playing away from home and have had some of our best results playing away in the Europa League. We won in Groningen, Rijeka and Bosnia just last week while obviously the conditions will be a factor we have proved we can deal with that and hopefully will again.
“I don’t want us to be an unlucky story. Last year at this stage, we missed a penalty early in the first half in Maribor which was the defining moment last season. Then we got Jayden Stockley sent off which for me was very harsh which could have made things go our way.
“Our performance was very good, but it counts for nothing in domestic cups or European football as it doesn’t matter if you are knocked out. We just want to find a way to stay in the tournament and hopefully we can do that in what will be a tough match against a good team.”
Aberdeen travelled without perennial top scorer Adam Rooney, who has a thigh injury and McInnes revealed he has all but ended his interest in former Scotland winger Shaun Maloney, who looks set to retire and become Celtic Under 20s coach.
He said: “I have spoken to Shaun last week and again yesterday and it’s up to him to come out and say what he is wanting to do. But he has indicated that he may well look at other options, and that will probably mean not playing again. We have had indications based on what Shaun feels his physical situation is at the minute that he would probably retire. We were well aware of that and it’s not a huge surprise to us.”
Dons keeper Joe Lewis is desperate to qualify after he lost a freak goal last season at Maribor, which ultimately sent Aberdeen out.
The ball bobbled from a Graeme Shinnie passback over Lewis’ foot and trickled into the net to cost Aberdeen a 1-0 defeat at the same stage.
Lewis said: “I don’t think about the Maribor game. It’s great for the club and for everyone to go further than we did last season and take the next step.
“The club has been striving for it for a couple of seasons now and I think this is a great opportunity for us to get through to the next stage and see who we can get then.
“There’s some big clubs in the play-off round and there would be some clubs who have qualified, like us, for it as well. We’ll deal with this game first.
“We know we’re up against a good team and we saw we were up against quality last week so we’re under no illusions that it’s going to be a tough night.”