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Dons captain Lewis hoping sharpness counts in Lisbon

Joe Lewis.
Joe Lewis.

Aberdeen captain Joe Lewis has experienced being on the rusty side in European competition.

Now he hopes his club can reap the rewards of being sharper than their opposition as they bid to create a Europa League shock at Sporting Clube de Portugal tonight.

The Dons take on the Lisbon outfit at Jose Alvalade Stadium tonight bidding to reach the play-off round of the competition for the first time in seven attempts under Derek McInnes.

For Sporting, Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on their preparation with nine players and their manager absent due to testing positive.

The outbreak also forced the postponement of their opening game of the league season on Saturday against Gil Vicente, meaning tonight’s match will be the club’s first game of the season.

Lewis knows how tough it can be to get up to speed against European opponents who are sharper and while he recognises the Dons have a huge challenge it is not one he regards as mission impossible.

He said: “It is hard to know because we haven’t seen them play in a competitive game this season.

“We all anticipate them being a strong and sharp side who are ready for the game and we have to make sure we are ready for it.

“Early on in the rounds, without being disrespectful to some of the teams previously, we’ve faced sides who haven’t been  full-time and we have been the better team and been able to cope with that.

“Sporting are the favourites for this game I am sure, but we will use that as motivation ourselves and enjoy being the underdogs for the game.

“It has been useful to get going and one or two things come up because they have had one or two difficulties of their own at their club.

“I don’t know how it has affected them so it is difficult for me to comment on how their preparation has been.

“We certainly feel we are ready and we can’t wait to get out on that pitch.”

Luxembourg part-timers Fola Esch famously upset the Dons 1-0 in Luxembourg in 2016 but the Dons progressed 3-2 on aggregate. Lewis would love the role to be reversed and Sporting to feel the pace tonight.

He said:  “Hopefully, that is the case. It is a one-off game and I am sure they are professional enough.  I know our preparations have been far from ideal but we got through our difficult stage.

“We had eight games who couldn’t train and had three games cancelled then we went and won six games in a row.

“They will be professional despite their start and they are a big enough and professional outfit  to be able to deal with that.”

Lewis’ club has knocked on the door of the play-off round but never broken through what has become a glass ceiling for the club. The size of the task tonight is as big as it has ever been against one of European football’s hardy perennials but Lewis is confident his side can upset the odds.

He said: “It was one when it was drawn everybody knows their name and they have a great history in Europe. It is one everybody sits up and takes notice of and it is their stadium which after training last night looks incredible.

“It has hosted big games in the past and it is one we are all looking forward to although we know how difficult a challenge it will be.

“It would be right up there in terms of us getting the win. We still would have another statement to get to the group stages.

“It will be very tough but in isolation the game is a one-off for everyone for a lot of the lads it will be one of the biggest names they have played against.  We are all looking forward too.”

The Aberdeen goalkeeper has been involved in big wins on the road during his time at Pittodrie and while he would rate a victory tonight high on his list of accomplishments at Pittodrie he knows he and his team-mates must play to their peak.

He said: “I don’t think we look at it as a performance of a lifetime but we know everybody needs to be on their game.

“When we have played big games domestically and we have beaten times like Celtic then everybody has had to play well.

“I remember winning down at Celtic Park a couple of years ago and everybody had to get eight or nine out of 10 and that is what it takes to win a game like this, we can’t have any passengers.

“Everybody has to perform to their ability to give ourselves a chance. That is not to say we will win the game necessarily but we need to be at the top of our abilities.”