Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes insists he was delighted to be branded a long-ball team by Maribor because it proves his Dons side have got under the skins of the Slovenians, ahead of tonight’s Europa League tie.
The Pittodrie side again suffered a travel nightmare en route to the former Yugoslav state when their plane was delayed by several hours, with Aberdeen not arriving in Maribor until late last night. In the last round, they also suffered logistical problems when their plane hit a seagull before landing in the North East and a replacement aircraft had to be found.
Aberdeen must score in Maribor tonight after a 1-1 first leg draw in Scotland. But former Spurs defender Rodrigo Defendi claimed he was unimpressed with McInnes’ direct tactics in the first leg because all the Scots did was plaster Maribor with long balls. But the Dons manager was quick to defend the way he set his Aberdeen side up and shrugged off another delay.
He said: “It pleases me to hear them commenting about our style of play. We play to win the game and to suit the best way to do that. If we play a team that defends deep, and gets a lot of protection from the players in front of the defence, we have to find a way to get to them. And we did.
“I’m fine with it and I expected their comments. We mixed our game up well. We got on the outside of them and in the middle of the park, you know Graeme Shinnie, Jonny Hayes and Ryan Jack were not overly physical. We were aggressive and direct at times, we competed, and got in and about them. We got crosses in and I was pleased with how we mixed the game up.
“If they have different defenders, we can play in a different way. Hopefully we will find a way to cause them problems. There is no doubt we were unfortunate not to win the game. We were the better team and if they were honest they would maybe think that themselves. The pressure we had on them in their box means we were disappointed not to win the game but the performance was really pleasing.
“The start of the game, the response to going behind, the mixing up of the way we tried to find ways through, people who watch us regularly will know the way we played the other night was slightly alien to us. But it shows we can play that way if we want, even domestically, but it’s up to me to help the players to win the game and if teams want to defend as deep as that then we have to find a way.
“I don’t really want to dwell on the delay too much, the only difference is, we were always going to train here [at Pittodrie] this morning, so the players had to change their itinerary, have their lunch here, fly in and then head straight to the hotel. I don’t think it’s too much of a drama.”
McInnes, who won’t be offering a deal to Kenyan trialist Khalid Aucho, accepts the match has been overshadowed by the tragic death of two Maribor youth players, Damjan Marjanovic and Zoran Baljak, in a car accident.
He said: “I think about how it would be if it was two young players at our club and how we would all feel. I don’t know how things are over there, but it is just awful news, something no one would ever expect. For young men to lose their lives in such tragic circumstances is just awful.
“The game was something we were all looking forward to but there is no doubt the news has cast a shadow on the match. But, once the game comes round we have an obligation to try to win and hopefully we can do that.”
Meanwhile, Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis has vowed the Premiership runners-up will go for it tonight at the hostile Stadion Ljudski vrt.
Lewis said: “We’ll certainly be positive and attack like we did in the first leg.
“If it was the other way round and we didn’t need to score, I wouldn’t want to sit there and just sit back because that’s a dangerous way to play. I’m sure they will be wary of sitting back and inviting pressure.
“We know how we will go about it – we’ll be on the front foot and be as aggressive and positive as you can.
“We need a goal so it is important we go with a positive attitude.
“It will be hot, but we’re a fit team so I don’t think that will be a problem. The goal for us is to get into the group stages and a win here will take us one step closer and we’ll give it a right go.”