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Duncan Shearer: Aberdeen now in win-or-bust territory in Europe ahead of PAOK visit

The Dons must beat PAOK at Pittodrie later this month if they hope to extend their Europa Conference League run into 2024.

Aberdeen's Bojan Miovski celebrates after he scores to make it 1-1 against HJK Helsinki. Image: SNS.
Aberdeen's Bojan Miovski celebrates after he scores to make it 1-1 against HJK Helsinki. Image: SNS.

All Aberdeen’s European eggs are in the PAOK basket if the Dons are to have any hope of progressing to the knockout phase of the Europa Conference League.

Barry Robson’s side are off the mark following a terrific hard-earned point against Finnish champions HJK Helsinki in Thursday’s 1-1 draw.

Bojan Miovski’s header for the equaliser was a goal of pure class.

The anticipation and execution was first-rate, as it was a really difficult chance.

All the pace of Richard Jensen’s ball into the box had gone thanks to the Helsinki captain Miro Tenho’s misplaced header, but Miovski did brilliantly to guide the deftest of headers past the goalkeeper.

It was no less than Aberdeen deserved – and they were unlucky not to get a winner in what was a strong final 25 minutes from the Dons.

It was a good point in what is a really competitive group, but PAOK’s excellent late win against Eintracht Frankfurt does leave the Dons in must-win territory when the Greek side visit Pittodrie after the international break.

A point apiece did little to help either the Dons or Helsinki, and with tournament favourites Frankfurt losing in Greece, PAOK – who have six points from their two games – are now in a really strong position.

The stage is set for a cracking game at Pittodrie later this month and I hope the fans pack out the stadium again for what will be the defining game of the section.

Aberdeen fans have a part to play

It is important the supporters stick with the team in these games.

Pittodrie was strangely subdued on Thursday, and I wonder if that’s because of how tough these matches are.

Big European nights are what the Red Army have been craving for years, and now they are here, they have to be savoured.

This is a new Aberdeen team and clearly one still in their infancy as a unit.

There’s still an inconsistency there in terms of tempo and performance and it was evident again on Sunday following a drab goalless draw with St Johnstone at Pittodrie.

That’s five points from a possible 12 in the Sunday games which have followed European matches, and I’m sure the manager and his backroom staff are doing all they can to address it.

European hangovers remain an issue for the Dons

I don’t know if it is a European hangover, but there is little doubt these high intensity European games take it out of players.

I can see why Barry took Graeme Shinnie off on Sunday. The Dons captain looked tired in the second half after an all-action energetic display against Helsinki.

He is such a key player in terms of the presence he has on the pitch and I understand why Barry wanted him out there for what was a really tough game against the Perth Saints.

A few extra days’ rest would have made all the difference I’m sure, but that’s what comes with the territory of playing regular European football.

Dons skipper Graeme Shinnie was substituted against St Johnstone. Image: Shutterstock.

Celtic and Rangers have had years to adapt to it and have the luxury of having huge squads to chop and change their teams.

Aberdeen are working towards having a bigger squad, but it’s clearly still a work in progress.

But it’s early days in the season, and as frustrating as it was to drop two points on Sunday, the Dons are not too far off the Premiership top four at this early stage.

The last couple of weeks have been positive in terms of progress for the Dons.

If they can maintain that after the next international break, then they’ll be well placed for the challenge ahead after the next international break in November.

International break is a chance for Caley Thistle to regroup under Ferguson

Caley Thistle boss Duncan Ferguson had his home debut on Saturday. Image: SNS.

I expect Caley Thistle boss Duncan Ferguson will be eager to make the most of the international break to implement the style of play he wants at the club.

I was at Caledonian Stadium on Saturday for his home debut against Partick Thistle, and it’s fair to say it was not a game which will live long in the memory.

Caley Thistle had a couple of half chances, while Caley Jags goalkeeper Mark Ridgers made a fine save to deny Brian Graham.

But otherwise it was a case of two teams cancelling each other out in a goalless draw.

It’s early days for the new manager and I’m still watching the same players who played for Billy Dodds, so it’s hard to make much of an early judgement.

They were more defensively minded on Saturday, though, and I’m sure Duncan is delighted to see his team keep a clean sheet against a Partick team who have been scoring freely in recent weeks.

Graham has been a real thorn in Inverness’ side in recent years, but he was restricted to just one chance.

A win and a clean sheet in his first two represents a decent start for Ferguson under the circumstances, but I expect the players will be busy during the break.

Duncan and his assistant Gary Bollan will be eager to get their own ideas across in the next fortnight.

I’ll be interested to see how they shape up when the Championship action resumes.

The next game on October 21 is a huge one, too, at Morton.

Victory for the home side will send Inverness back to the bottom of the league, so at this early stage it’s shaping up to be a significant match for both clubs.

Here’s hoping Scotland can inflict more misery on Spain

I make no apologies for stating I hope Scotland can ram Rodri’s ridiculous words back down his throat when we face Spain in our latest Euro 2024 qualifier on Thursday.

The Manchester City star did not take too kindly to our 2-0 win at Hampden in March, labelling our style of play as rubbish.

He also accused Steve Clarke’s side of always falling over and trying to provoke a reaction from the opposition.

His comments reek of sour grapes to me – and I’d love nothing better than to see Scott McTominay, who scored both goals in March, bang in another to record a famous win and with it qualification for next summer’s finals in Germany.