Aberdeen face the prospect of playing their first competitive game of next season on July 3 if they finish third in the Scottish Premiership.
The Dons are nine points clear of fourth-placed Dundee United and, with a European place on offer to the teams which finish second and third, the Dons are on course for a place in next season’s Europa League qualifiers.
But defeat by St Johnstone in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final means Derek McInnes’s players must finish in second place, where they are currently three points clear of Motherwell, or face a quick return to action after the summer break.
The team which finishes third in the league will play on July 3 and 10, while the league runners-up and Scottish Cup winners enter in the second qualifying round which begins on July 17. Aberdeen lost one chance to ensure a later start when they were beaten by Saints on Sunday but McInnes is determined to bring back European football to the club for the first time since 2009.
McInnes said: “Aberdeen should be in Europe and that is what we are striving towards achieving now.
“We haven’t had too many disappointments but when they have come we have always responded in the next game and I will be looking for us to do that at Inverness on Friday. Our objective is still to get Aber- deen into Europe as that is where we should be but we still have a lot to do.
“If losing on Sunday helps us in our quest to finish in Europe then at least that is something to take from it. At the start of the season we were confident we could have a good campaign and we have done that. Losing a cup semi- final is the worst hangover you can have. We can still be pleased with our season but we will need to dust ourselves down because we have work to do.”
The pain of defeat has hit hard at Pittodrie, with many dreaming of a second cup final this season, but McInnes hopes the players can use the pain of defeat to ensure the next semi-final outcome is a positive one for the club.