Patient Angus MacDonald joked his super-strike against HJK – which lit a fire under struggling Aberdeen in freezing Helsinki – was his best goal in two decades as he staked his claim for regular Dons action.
The 31-year-old centre-back was one of seven players brought into the starting line-up by Reds boss Barry Robson ahead of Thursday’s 2-2 Europa Conference League draw at the snow-hit Bolt Arena.
Much-changed Aberdeen were not just getting battered by the elements, but by HJK – and were fortunate to be just 2-0 down as half-time approached.
However, on 41 minutes, MacDonald – making his first appearance of the Euro campaign – sent an unstoppable half-volley beyond Helsinki keeper Niki Maenpaa, sparking a comeback which saw Duk equalise in the second period and the Reds almost snatch victory.
A key part of the run to claim third place in the Premiership under Robson in the second half of last season, MacDonald has been left out in the cold behind Stefan Gartenmann, Richard Jensen and Slobodan Rubezic in the back three for much of this season, making just six appearances so far in all competitions.
While admitting it has been frustrating, the Englishman reflected: “For me personally it has been (a frustrating season), after such a strong finish last year.
“I picked up a knee injury the first week of pre season, which is never ideal.
“But credit the boys in front of me – they have performed and it’s just about being patient.
“I’m always going to be a good character around the group and show my professionalism, but I’ll always work hard on the training pitch to try to get back in.
“It’s just one of them – the lads in front have done well since I’ve been out and it’s just about being patient and biding my time.
“The manager knows what I can bring to the team. I just need to wait my turn sort of thing.”
MacDonald’s first thought after wonder-goal: ‘What do I do now?’
MacDonald reckons his stunning contribution in Helsinki – which home goalie Maenpaa applauded as a “miracle” goal – was his best scoring effort since he was “about 10”.
It has even been nominated for the Uefa goal of the week across Champions League, Europa League and Conference matches, decided by the public vote.
The Dons defender said: “My first thought was, what do I do now? Let’s get back in position because I’m not used to scoring those goals.”
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MacDonald was pleased with how Aberdeen recovered from a slow start in Helsinki, and thinks the sub-zero temperatures, snow and amount of changes all impacted their performance in the game’s opening 40 minutes.
He said: “Putting so many changes into the team can really throw us off, but after the goal we showed how to gel and we grew in confidence.
“Jack Milne was fantastic making his debut – and, even better, making a European debut – so credit to him.
“There were some great performances out there.
“We probably showed them too much respect first 20 minutes.
“But as soon as the goal went in everything started to change.”
Game ‘definitely would not have continued in Scotland’ – MacDonald
On the remarkable weather on the night, MacDonald added: “There have been a few cold days at Cormack Park, but this definitely tops it.
“It definitely would not have continued in Scotland.
“I tried to be brave first half and come out in shorts and t-shirt – and my hands froze over, so I couldn’t even put a thermal on.”
The snowfall meant a tractor had to clear the pitch at both half-time and on 74 minutes at the Bolt Arena.
The 1,500 Dons fans in attendance were also warned the game could be abandoned after snowballs were thrown at HJK keeper Maenpaa.
MacDonald joked a postponement “wouldn’t have mattered because I scored the goal!”
Aberdeen ‘kick’ themselves over two HJK draws, but focus now on Hibs, league climb and cup final places
However, he thought the 2-2 draw in Helsinki, as well as the similar come-from-behind nature of the 1-1 stalemate with HJK at Pittodrie reflected what has been a frustrating – and still winless – Conference League Group G campaign for the Dons with five of their six matches played.
He said: “We’ll look back and kick ourselves we should’ve taken more from both games and could have been qualifying.
“But it’s not meant to be.
“We’ve shown great character home and away – and throughout the European campaign.”
Aberdeen head to Hibs on Sunday looking to avoid another post-continental action hangover.
Their stuttering Premiership form has them 10th in the top-flight – five places and five points behind their hosts.
MacDonald – who thinks every player in Robson’s squad is “champing at the bit” to earn a League Cup final place ahead of the Hampden showpiece against Rangers on December 17 – said: “We’ve had a lot of games and travelling, but it’s all focus back to the league to try to finish in the top three again.
“Travel… the teams you’re coming up against are not easy, they’re great quality players… it does take a lot out of you.
“But that’s all excuses. We’re professional footballers, that’s what we do. Play week in, week out, two games a week.
“So there are no excuses now, we’ve got to kick on in the league and get results.
“(Hibs) is another game away from home. So we’ll look to recover, probably freshen it up, go again and look to get three points.”