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Jonny Hayes chasing Europa League glory with Aberdeen

Veteran wing back not interested in Conference League safety net as Dons chase Europa League place.

Jonny Hayes is ready to face HJK Helsinki in Finland. Image: SNS
Jonny Hayes is ready to face HJK Helsinki in Finland. Image: SNS

Aberdeen have group stage football of European competition to look forward to no matter what the outcome is tonight but Jonny Hayes wants the glory of Europa League football for the Dons.

Barry Robson’s side welcome Swedish champions BK Hacken to Pittodrie for the second leg of their Europa League play-off with the tie delicately poised at 2-2 following last week’s first leg in Gothenburg.

The knowledge their European adventure will continue regardless of the result tonight is of no interest to Hayes, however.

He wants the Europa League and the prestige which comes with it.

Hayes said: “We’ve got the parachute of the Conference League but by no means are we thinking about that.

“We want to win the game and the glory which comes with playing Europa League football.

“Golfers want to win the prizes on offer and for us it’s the same. There is a difference between the Europa and Conference League and it is by no mean a punishment to go into the Conference League.

“There is an added incentive of the Europa League and I’m only thinking of winning a one-off game to go into the Europa League group stage for.

“It’s the closest this club has been in 15 years.”

Hayes hoping history can repeat itself for Aberdeen

Jonny Hayes clapping his hands on the pitch
Aberdeen wing-back Jonny Hayes.Image: Shutterstock

The 2007-08 season was the last time the Dons played in the group stage of Europe, with Jimmy Calderwood’s side reaching the group stage of the UEFA Cup on the away goals rule thanks to a 1-1 draw in Dnipro.

One round was all the Dons had to overcome to reach their goal and Hayes hopes history can repeat itself for the current squad tonight.

He said: “We’ve had two, three or four rounds of qualifying before and we’ve had tough draws and fallen that little bit short.

“I’ve always been envious a little of the 2007-08 squad which played Dnipro. I wish we had one play-off game, regardless of the opposition, to prepare for.

“I’m sure our chances would have been increased of having group stage football.

“This season we’ve got our wish.

“Some years we had some really tough draws. We had Groningen and Sociedad in one season which was really tough.

“The game which took us most by surprise was probably Shkendija in 2015. They played well but Niall McGinn scored and we want through on away goals.

“These teams are all technically really good. The gap is closing between the likes of Latvia and Macedonia with Scotland and Ireland.

“You come up against really quality teams you’ve never heard of.

“Playing one round is easier to overcome than three or four.

“Had we been offered that chance we’d have bitten your hand off but it’s come round now and we’re trying to deliver Europa League football for the club.”

 Angus MacDonald, Jonny Hayes, Anthony Stewart and Dante Polvara during an Aberdeen training session at Cormack Park. Image: SNS. 

Hacken have improved from the side which visited Pittodrie in 2021

The Aberdeen side which faced BK Hacken in the Conference League qualifier in 2021 at Pittodrie. Image: SNS

Hayes is the sole survivor from the starting 11 which beat Hacken 5-1 at Pittodrie in the Conference League second qualifying round in Stephen Glass’ first game in charge two years ago.

The Dons were outstanding in their first competitive game of the campaign even if the result caught Hayes and his team-mates by surprise.

He said: “We were really good that night. It was different to what the manager is working on now but as a player you appreciate those moments you work on in training come to fruition on the pitch.

“It clicked that night but it wasn’t a coincidence. We played the same way Hacken play now in terms of forward runners from midfield and high full backs.

“We worked hard leading up to that game. The result caught us a little by surprise but the performance was one we expected.”

Dons feeling confident after Gothenburg comeback

Aberdeen’s Bojan Miovski celebrates after scoring against Hacken last week. Image: SNS.

Having fought back from 2-0 down to draw the first leg a week ago Hayes believes the approach of the Swedes has not changed much.

The quality and tempo has improved as far as the wing back is concerned although he believes his side should take confidence from their spirited second half showing.

He said: “The football is quite similar but they are probably faster at moving the ball.

“They play with two high number eights and their full backs get involved.

“Two years ago a lot of the best teams in the world played like that and you still see a lot of teams playing possession based football at a high tempo.

“It gave us a chance to go and press them and you won’t see many better goals than our second last week in terms of how we train, the things we do and then seeing it pay off in a game.

“We won the ball and two or three passes later our right back was one on one with the goalkeeper.

“I wouldn’t say they are contrasting styles but the two teams have styles which will make for an attacking game.

“It will be end to end. They like to attack with pace and we like to go forward too.

“I’m not saying this because we scored two goals but the second half was one of the best halves of football I’ve watched live in a long time.”

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