The ‘exceptional’ Red Army can inspire Aberdeen to Europa Conference League group stage qualification, insists team captain Scott Brown.
Midfielder Brown hopes to lead out the Reds in front of a sell-out crowd at Pittodrie in the play-off second leg against Qarabag on Thursday night.
The 36-year-old hailed the Red Army as the 12th man who can drive on the Dons to overturn a 1-0 deficit against the Azerbaijan outfit.
Aberdeen have made 18,000 tickets available for the Reds’ biggest European match in more than a decade.
Brown wants the stadium packed and rocking as the Reds target qualification for group stage action in Europe for the first time since the UEFA Cup in 2007.
Brown said: “Our supporters are the 12th man and drive us on.
“They give us that little bit of urgency and the passion from the fans, the lads love that.
“Here’s hoping we can get a huge crowd on Thursday night.
“The fans were exceptional at Tynecastle and managed to silence the Hearts crowd.
“All we could hear was our fans.
“We have missed not playing in front of fans for the last year-and-a-half.
“Now that we have managed to get them back in the building we want to see them all coming in for what will hopefully be a sell-out.”
Rewards of group stage qualification
There were 15,107 supporters inside Pittodrie for the 2-1 defeat of Icelandic side Breidablik in the previous round.
Now Aberdeen are set for the biggest European night at Pittodrie since drawing 2-2 with German giants Bayern Munich in the first leg of a last 32 clash of the UEFA Cup on February 14, 2008.
Reward for progressing to the group stages is a £2.5m base prize payment with more riches to come from gate receipts, sponsorship and television broadcast rights.
Brown accepts the financial rewards for a club that has lost millions due to the coronavirus pandemic are vital, but also wants group stage action to help the ongoing development of Stephen Glass’ rebuilt side.
He said: “It (group stages) is huge for the club.
“There is a lot money, but it is also great for the lads to try to get into the group stages.”
‘We fancy our chances at home’
Aberdeen endured a pitch so bad Pittodrie legend Willie Miller has urged the club to complain to UEFA and push for it never to be used in European competition again.
Such was the shocking state of the surface at the Tofiq Bahramov Republican Stadium, the Qarabag players even apologised to the Reds after the match.
The first leg was also played in temperatures exceeding 30 degrees against a Qarabag side that has qualified for the group stages of Europe in each of the previous seven seasons – once in the Champions League and six times in the Europa League.
When those factors are considered, including the travelling and time difference, Brown was willing to take a narrow loss as he is confident of finishing the job in front of the Red Army.
Brown said: “The pitch was terrible, but we had to deal with that.
“Coming away with a 1-0 defeat, we’ll take that because we fancy our chances at home.
“The pitch was the same for both teams and they were apologising after the game.
“Hopefully at the end of the game on Thursday night we will be apologising to them for going through to the next round.”
Brown ready for full European shift
Veteran midfielder Brown played all 90 minutes in the first leg in Baku.
Aberdeen didn’t arrive back in the Granite City from Azerbaijan until 8am on Friday morning, allowing little time for recovery before the crunch Premiership trip to Hearts on Sunday, with both sides bidding to go top of the table.
However, Brown again played the entire game at Tynecastle – and insists he is ready to put in another full 90 minute shift against Qarabag to lead the bid to reach the groups.
He said: “There are two more games (Qarabag, Ross County home on Sunday) before the international break, so I’ll get time off then.
“It will be good if we can get two results as well.”
Confidence high after draw at Hearts
Aberdeen go into the second leg having fought back from behind in drawing 1-1 at Hearts to retain an unbeaten start to the Premiership campaign.
The draw also ended a two-game losing run with the Dons having crashed out of the League Cup 2-1 at Raith Rovers before being edged out in Baku.
Brown said: “We played our own game (against Hearts), got the ball down and played proper football which was enjoyable.
“There was a little more urgency, forward passing, driving on with the ball.
“We created chances and the deliveries from Calvin (Ramsay) and Dean (Campbell) from out wide for the goal was fantastic.”
The continued resurgence of Funso Ojo
Belgian midfielder Funso Ojo grabbed the equaliser at Tynecastle to continue his resurgence under manager Stephen Glass.
Ojo, 29, was sent out on loan to League One Wigan Athletic in January last year.
⚽ A first Dons goal for Funso Ojo. 🇧🇪 pic.twitter.com/cGarWFw0qS
— Aberdeen FC (@AberdeenFC) August 23, 2021
However, under Glass he has become a key player and looks set to start against Qarabag.
Brown said: “Funso has been working extremely hard since he came back for pre-season.
“He is looking a fantastic player, is scoring and getting in the box.
“Funso is great to play with because he makes those runs in behind.
“It is those unselfish runs that not a lot of people notice, but we appreciate that.”