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Willie Miller: Aberdeen can regain pride for Scottish football by overcoming PAOK following Hearts’ hammering

Aberdeen can also blow Europa Conference League Group G wide open by defeating table-toppers PAOK at Pittodrie on Thursday - and the Dons must go into the clash with absolutely no fear.

Pittodrie ahead of Aberdeen's Europa Conference League clash with HJK Helsinki.
Willie Miller

Aberdeen can regain some pride for Scottish football by overcoming a PAOK side who inflicted a heavy Euro defeat to Hearts.

Hearts’ 6-1 aggregate loss to PAOK in the Europa Conference League play-off earlier this season had a detrimental effect to the reputation of Scottish football.

Aberdeen can get that pride back by beating them in the Conference League Group G clash at Pittodrie on Thursday.

It is important the Reds strike a blow for Scottish football.

However, it is also vital the Dons get a result for their own Euro campaign aspirations.

Barry Robson’s side would also blow the group wide open if they can take all three points from the Greek Super League club.

Hearts' Lawrence Shankland looking dejected on the pitch with two other players behind him
Hearts’ Lawrence Shankland looking dejected after his side went 2-1 behind during the Europa Conference League play-off round first leg match against PAOK. Image: SNS.

PAOK top Group G with a 100 percent record, having beaten Eintracht Frankfurt and HJK Helsinki, so it will be tough.

But Aberdeen need to prove they can go toe-to-toe with teams with established Euro pedigrees like PAOK.

The Reds must go for a win on Thursday to get the confidence to take into the remainder of the European campaign.

It is a game they should approach with absolutely no fear.

Aberdeen's Bojan Miovski and Duk celebrating a goal
Bojan Miovski celebrates after he scored to make it 1-1 during the Europa Conference League match between Aberdeen and HJK Helsinki. Image: SNS.

Sure,  PAOK lead the group and overcame Hearts, but embrace the challenge to beat them.

It is going to be a huge test, but Aberdeen must have the confidence and self belief to go for three points.

The form Robson’s rebuilt side have displayed at times this season indicates they are more than capable of securing  a win.

For example, the performance in beating Rangers 3-1 at Ibrox which was top quality.

That is the level twhich will be required against PAOK.

Aberdeen can be the disruptors in Group G

I believe manager Robson will go into the game with the positive mindset that Aberdeen can deliver a win.

Achieve it, and suddenly the gap on PAOK would only be two points, and who knows what will happen in the game between Eintracht Frankfurt and HJK Helsinki.

Aberdeen have to try to be disruptors in the group.

If you want to make an impact in Europe, maximising home advantage is vital.

The 1-1 draw with HJK Helsinki at Pittodrie in the previous group game was a little disappointing.

However, Aberdeen can quickly turn the tables with three points against PAOK.

Aberdeen striker Bojan Miovski
Aberdeen striker Bojan Miovski during the 1-1 draw with HJK Helsinki. Image: Shutterstock.

A win would certainly get Aberdeen into a challenging position in Group G.

The clash with group leaders PAOK  is an opportunity for Aberdeen put forward a case that they are learning in Europe.

Group stage action is a new experience for this Dons team.

The reality of qualifying for Europe is you will come up against top teams like PAOK.

Aberdeen are at home, though, and anything is possible at Pittodrie.

When you start travelling in Europe and going overseas, it becomes much more difficult, and the environment can be hostile at times.

But the Reds can shine in Euro ties in the Granite City and it is up to them to deliver a memorable night under the lights at Pittodrie.

Weekend postponement may benefit Reds by giving them more training time

The Dons go into the PAOK game after more than two weeks of inactivity.

That is due to the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled game against Dundee due to Storm Babet.

I don’t think there will be any ring-rust and believe that postponement could ultimately be of benefit to the Dons.

It has been a hectic season so far and many of the signings were secured pretty late in the transfer window.

Time on the training field will have been limited due to the packed game schedule.

Many players were also away on international duty during the recent break and only returned a few days before the scheduled game with Dundee.

The extra time opened up by the postponement will have given boss Robson more opportunity to work with his squad.

That will be important, and I can only see it as being helpful at this stage of the season.

The Dons players lined up before the match
The Aberdeen players line up before the match against HJK Helsinki. Image: Shutterstock.

Lewis Ferguson’s rise in Italy continues

Former Aberdeen midfielder Lewis Ferguson should be applauded for the way he has risen to prominence in the Italian top-flight.

The switch from Scotland to Italy could have been daunting, but Ferguson has taken it in his stride.

He scored the opener for Bologna in a 2-1 Serie A defeat of Frosinone at the weekend.

Ferguson had also scored in a 1-1 draw with Italian giants Juventus earlier in the season.

The 24-year-old went into an unfamiliar environment when moving to Italy and embraced it.

He worked his way into the Bologna first team following his move from Aberdeen last summer.

Ferguson is now one of the first names on their team sheet.

It is a magnificent achievement to be performing so well in the Italian top-flight.

Midfielder deserved Scotland start against France

He deserved his starting slot for Scotland in the 4-1 friendly loss to France last week.

Ferguson will be pushing for more starts for his country going forward.

The midfield area for Scotland is an extremely strong unit at the moment so Ferguson may have to continue to be patient.

It was a disappointing result against the French.

However, that should not detract from the magnificent achievement of qualifying for the Euro 2024 finals.

Lewis Ferguson during a Scotland training session.
Lewis Ferguson during a Scotland training session. Image: SNS.

The way Scotland have played in competitive games has been first class.

To secure qualification so early in the campaign is an outstanding achievement.

It is not what we usually do as a nation.

Scotland normally take it to the wire when pushing for qualification for a tournament.

To qualify so early is a magnificent job from Steve Clarke and his players.

In their last three games they have taken on top sides in France, Spain and England.

There is no embarrassment in losing to them, as they are teams that will go into the Euros with ambitions to win the trophy.

In falling short to those nations, there is no need for worry… if you have learned from the games. And if they offer an insight on the improvements required to reach that level.

There is no need for any kind of depression about defeats to France, Spain and England to set in – and I don’t think it will.

Manager Clarke and his squad are all very focused.