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McInnes backs McLennan to step-up in Dons time of need

Connor McLennan scored the second goal against Rangers.
Connor McLennan scored the second goal against Rangers.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has challenged Connor McLennan to fill the void following Niall McGinn’s injury by leading the way in the Dons’s push for Europe.

McGinn will miss the run-in after snapping his ankle ligament last weekend and joins Gary Mackay-Steven on the sidelines at Pittodrie.

The absence of the duo means the burden falls on McLennan’s shoulders but the Dons boss has backed the 19 year-old to step up to the plate.

He said: “Throughout my time here I’ve always set-up with two wide players. It has been that way for the past six years. Niall and Gary are two key players for us and with Scott Wright on loan at Dundee we’re left with one recognised wide player now in Connor McLennan so the onus will be on him now but he can handle it.

“Niall is due to have an operation and he’ll be back in the summer. It was a real blow to lose him on Saturday right at the end of the training session.”

The Dons return to league duty on Saturday at Rugby Park where they face third-placed Kilmarnock who lead Aberdeen on goal difference for the third and final automatic qualifying place for next season’s Europa League.

Fourth place will be enough to guarantee Europe if Celtic win the Scottish Cup next month but with Aberdeen’s fate in their own hands McInnes wants to keep it that way.

He said: “Europe is the first thing we mention every pre-season. It’s what we worked hard to achieve the previous campaign and it’s a target we aim for every year. This club is used to being there and while people will look at other clubs who are not there every year and think they will be hungry it’s just as important for us.

“It means just as much to us as the teams who could potentially stop us from qualifying and we will be stressing it to the players that they have to show how important it is to them too in the last five matches.”

It has been a difficult week at Pittodrie following the 3-0 Scottish Cup semi-final loss to the Hoops at Hampden on Sunday but McInnes has backed his players to bounce back and finish the season with a flourish.

He said: “I’d love to have six games left of the season but we’ve got five crucial league games and we’ve got to pick ourselves up and go again.

“We’re disappointed at losing the semi-final and having looked at it again no-one will convince me Dom Ball’s two yellow cards were anything but really harsh. To be sent-off for a trip with your first foul and then an accidental clash of heads seems really unfair.

“It was a tough day for us but if you look at the two cup competitions for us we’ve lost in both competitions to the best team in the country who will be favourites to go on and win the cup.

“We’ll take the hit, refocus and go again. We have five tough games but it’s in our own hands and that’s all we can ask for.”

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