Graeme Shinnie knows plenty of question marks hung over Pittodrie this summer as key players departed and manager Derek McInnes was courted by Sunderland, but the skipper believes the answer to all the upheaval could be an even better Aberdeen side.
With the capture of Scotland attacker Shaun Maloney expected imminently and an offer in for former St Johnstone striker Stevie May, there is plenty evidence to back Shinnie’s claim that the changes enforced on the Dons squad will not weaken their ability to be the most likely to challenge Celtic.
New recruits Greg Stewart and Greg Tansey were tidy in their first outings for the club against a youthful St Johnstone side, while returning loan signing Ryan Christie got on the scoresheet along with Adam Rooney and substitute Bruce Anderson.
There may have been differing agendas in this friendly as both teams geared up for European football, with Saints keeping their starters in reserve and McInnes naming a full-strength team, but the Aberdeen message afterwards was plain and simple.
“Shaun Maloney is an older, wiser head that will bring a lot to the team both on and off the pitch,” commented Shinnie. “That is the type of player we want here to push us forward.
“There was a lot of talk of Jonny [Hayes] leaving, Ryan Jack going to Rangers and obviously the manager potentially going. There was a dark cloud hanging over things but when the manager announced he was staying that disappeared and the positivity came back.
“The signings have brought a massive buzz to the club. I am sure there are more to come. The team is getting stronger and it is looking positive. We could be better next season.”
This was the first step in Aberdeen’s preparations for their Europa League second round qualifier against either Ordabasy of Kazakhstan or Bosnians Siroki Brijeg, who surprisingly lead 2-0 from Thursday’s first-leg.
The Dons – who currently have Turkish-German defender Berkay Dabanli on trial and are only offering training facilities to Kevin McNaughton – still have plenty of hard work ahead of them, but Shinnie is approaching the Europa League with optimism.
“It would be massive for us to reach the group stages,” he added. “It is a stage we would all love to play on. Some of the stadiums and teams you would play against if you were to make it are brilliant.”
For St Johnstone, the aim at the moment is simply to avoid the ignominy of a fall at the first hurdle after Thursday’s 2-1 defeat at home to FK Trakai. The return leg in Lithuania this week now threatens to be a forlorn one for the Perth club, but midfielder Chris Millar is adamant they can pull off a stirring comeback.
“I didn’t want to come back after 19 days off just to go out at the first stage,” said the experienced 34-year-old. “That would be a disappointment.
“I thought we made them look better than they were. Of course it is going to be difficult but I would be lying if I said I didn’t think we could do it. We are in a difficult position but I think we have enough quality to get a result.”