Striker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas insists Aberdeen will go for a win in Azerbaijan in a bid to take a major step towards Europa Conference League group stage qualification.
Despite searing heat in excess of 30 degrees at match-time, a seven-hour flight and a pitch so bad Qarabag tried to change the venue, Emmanuel-Thomas says the Dons will not play it safe.
A draw, or even narrow loss, would put Aberdeen in a strong position for the return at Pittodrie next Thursday.
However, the 30-year-old wants to deliver a hammer blow to Qarabag with victory in Baku to put the Reds firmly in control of the play-off tie.
Emmanuel-Thomas, aka JET, reckons the Dons already have the upper hand by playing in Azerbaijan first as a packed Pittodrie for the return will give them the vital edge in the fight to qualify for the groups.
Aberdeen will face Qarabag at the Tofiq Bahramov Republican Stadium on Thursday without attacker Ryan Hedges.
Welsh international Hedges did not fly out to Azerbaijan having suffered an injury in the 2-1 League Cup loss to Raith Rovers on Sunday.
Aberdeen are within touching distance of qualifying for the group stages of Europe for the first time since 2007 and JET is determined to end that 14-year wait.
Especially after the disappointment of crashing out of the League Cup to Championship Raith Rovers on Sunday.
He said: “We have to turn it around after that loss at Raith by getting the win on Thursday.
“Having the away game first is always in your favour if you can get the result you want.
“To then take that back to your own ground in front of our fans is the best possible option.
“It is a great thing to have the second leg at home now that we have the fans back.
“They bring a lot of noise, a lot of energy and a lot of high spirits.
“For us on the pitch we can feed off it in the game.
“It gives you that extra bit of oomph when you’re playing.”
Euro groups was set out as a target
Aberdeen are just two games away from qualifying for the group stages of European football for the first time since 2007 under former boss Jimmy Calderwood.
That was one of the targets outlined by manager Stephen Glass, his management team and the squad before the season began.
JET said: “If we could qualify for the group stages, it would mean a great deal.
“It is something that we spoke about in the summer and was one of our main aims from the very first game.
“The group stages in Europe would be a great place to be as a squad.
“It’s about giving ourselves the best possible chance in Azerbaijan to do that.
“Then we’ll take them back to Pittodrie and finish the job.
“We are looking to go the distance and get to the group stages.”
No cup exit hangover for Qarabag tie
Aberdeen will face a Qarabag side with an established European pedigree of successfully negotiating play-offs to qualify for the group stages.
In each of the last seven seasons, Qarabag have qualified for the groups – once in the Champions League and six times in the Europa League.
Aberdeen suffered a disastrous build-up to their biggest European tie in more than a decade when throwing away a half-time lead to crash out of the League Cup 2-1 to Championship side Raith Rovers on Sunday.
Manager Glass made seven changes to his starting line-up with team captain Scott Brown, leading scorer Christian Ramirez, Scotland international Andrew Considine, Lewis Ferguson, Calvin Ramsay, Jack MacKenzie and Hedges all rested.
All of those players, barring the injured Hedges, are expected to return to the starting-line-up for the play-off first leg in Baku.
JET said: “We might have taken a bump on Sunday, but it doesn’t mean our spirits are going to drop.
“We can’t change what happened against Raith, so you can’t have too many negative thoughts on what took place and what can’t be changed.
“The next thing is to move on to Qarabag and hopefully we can turn it around.
“We have looked at what they are about and there is a lot of preparation and strategies.
“We need to look at what our strengths are and take them to the table to hopefully impact on them.
“Playing in Europe is a key thing to a lot of players, so for me personally reaching the groups would be a great achievement.
“It’s something the players and staff here are trying to make happen to the best of our ability.”
‘We have to get our heads right for Qarabag’
Aberdeen appeared to be coasting into the next round of the League Cup, where reward was an away clash at Celtic, when leading Raith 1-0 at half-time.
However, a second half-come back from the lower league side delivered the first set-back of the new season for manager Glass’ restructured side.
JET revealed there was an immediate post-mortem conducted on the performance in the Stark’s Park dressing room.
He said: “Immediately after the game was very frustrating and we spoke as a team in the dressing room.
“Even though we lost against Raith, we have to try to get our heads right and get mentally prepared for the game coming up against Qarabag.”
A stunning goal then a bitter cup defeat
The cup defeat at Raith Rovers was bitter sweet for Emmanuel-Thomas as the former Livingston striker netted his first competitive goal since signing on a two-year deal in the summer.
It was a sublime half-volley from just inside the box after receiving a cushioned lay off from Niall McGinn.
— Aberdeen FC (@AberdeenFC) August 15, 2021
He said: “It is always good to get the first goal and you would prefer it if the goal comes and you get through to the next round.”