Aberdeen turn to Europa League challenge

Aberdeen's Ryan Jack has a spring in his step during pre-season training yesterday. Picture: SNS
Aberdeen's Ryan Jack has a spring in his step during pre-season training yesterday. Picture: SNS
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Derek McInnes spent his first season as manager restoring Aberdeen’s reputation at home and is determined to use his second to achieve the same thing abroad.

That process starts with a far from glamorous game at home to FK Daugava Riga in the first of potentially four qualifying ties to make it to the group stage of the Europa League. It’s a long way from the halcyon days under Sir Alex Ferguson when the Dons lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup against Real Madrid then beat Hamburg to collect the European Super Cup.

In fact, their last venture into continental competition five years ago ended in the ignominy of a record 8-1 aggregate defeat by Sigma Olomouc.

It has taken the arrival of McInnes to bring respectability back to Aberdeen after lifting a first trophy in 19 years when they won the League Cup in March. In addition, only Motherwell’s controversial stoppage-time goal at Pittodrie on the last day of the season denied them a highest league finish in two decades.

That revival was all the encouragement the club’s supporters needed to flood back to the fold with average attendances up by nearly 4,000.

Now the next step for McInnes is to enhance that domestic success by giving the current generation of fans the sort of experience the previous ones enjoyed further afield.

He said: “European football has traditionally been special for the club as it built its reputation on being strong in these competitions. Some of Aberdeen’s best moments have come in this arena and they have given the best memories for the support. I just want our boys to experience that and the current support to experience what their fathers and grandfathers have experienced.

“We want to get back to being strong domestically and I feel we went some way to doing that last year by winning a trophy. Now we have a test and a challenge to see how we do in Europe.”

The pain of defeat by Motherwell was intensified as it meant Aberdeen’s players returning to training two weeks earlier to prepare for this extra qualifying round. By contrast, their Latvian opponents are halfway through their season, which should give them an edge in terms of sharpness if nothing else.

It also means McInnes has so far been unable to find a striker to fill the gap left by the departure of Scott Vernon, Josh Magennis and Calvin Zola last month.

Despite that the Aberdeen manager is just happy to be in the competition and won’t make any excuses if his side fail to make it to the group stage.

Commenting on the early start he said: “I don’t know if it is unfair. It is just a consequence and we knew this would be the scenario after the last game of last season. We just need to get on with it and for me it is not 
really a hardship.”