While Aberdeen’s away form this season has been something of a concern, Pittodrie has been a fortress in Aberdeen’s first three games there this season. Therefore, even though they lost last week in Croatia against Rijeka, they are confident going into tomorrow’s return fixture in the third round of Europa League qualifying.
Sunday’s defeat at St Mirren was disappointing and followed on from sub-par performances against Rovaniemi in Finland, Chikhura Sachkhere in Georgia and six days ago versus Rijeka, but the side have been a force to be reckoned with at home so far this term.
They were free-flowing against Rovaniemi, skelped Chikhura 5-0 and played some lovely stuff against Hearts as they won 3-2. Even though they have to reverse a two-goal deficit against Rijeka, Joe Lewis is confident that they can pull off a huge comeback in front of a raucous home crowd.
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“From what we saw on Thursday [away to Rijeka]we can feel very positive going into this week,” said the recently appointed Aberdeen captain. “We have been really attacking at Pittodrie and you only have to look at the Hearts game last Sunday where we showed a lot of character to come back and win.
“That was an important statement from us to come back and win that game so early in the season. We will need to show that again. We always seem to get a special feel at Pittodrie on a Thursday night and the fans can play their part in producing a special atmosphere that can see us through. It is certainly helpful to play in front of big crowds at Pittodrie. I know it inspires the players but we also know we need to play our part on the park.’
An almost perfect defensive performance saw them set to escape from the Balkans with just a one-goal loss, but Robert Muric’s strike just two minutes from time saw the Croats take a commanding lead.
And Lewis said: “It [the second goal]makes qualification a bit more difficult. We [knew we]had to win the game at home any way, we knew we would have to do that to have any chance of progressing.
“We feel we have goals in us, especially at home, especially when you look at the way we have been playing so far this season. There is a lot to be positive about in terms of the home tie and we know we have got free-scoring strikers and that gives us real optimism going back to Pittodrie next week.
“Sam Cosgrove has been in a really good scoring form and we have shown in the first few games that we have others who can pitch in with goals as well. With Sam in the form he is in it always gives you a chance and you know if he gets a chance that he is likely to put it away.”
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Aberdeen have only ever reached the third round of qualifying under McInnes and, unless they pull off a minor miracle, will miss out again on the play-off round this campaign.
In the last six seasons, they have reached the third round on five occasions, but the group stage remains the aim.
“It has to be our drive and main goal to try and not only get into the next round but then on to the group stages,” said Lewis. “That is what everybody at the club wants to achieve. I know it is harder because we have a lot of new players but I feel we have real quality and strength and depth. I think we are well placed and we know that Rijeka is a big hurdle but it is one we feel we can still get over.”
Aberdeen have scored eight goals in their last two games in the Granite City – against Chikhura Sachkhere and Hearts – and their style of play has got fans on their feet.
Lewis said: “Rijeka are a better team than Chikhura but we need to show our fitness levels and how we can play,” said Lewis. “We are free-scoring team and we can cause any team problems as we showed against Chikhura and against Hearts.
“I think we have got stronger at home with every game and we will need to up it again against Rijeka. We know we need to score goals but we also know we need to keep it tight at the back but the manager will have his tactics and will set us up the best way to get the result we need.”