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Paul Third: All of Aberdeen’s European eggs are in a Hampden basket

Cup glory - and European qualification - hinges on the Dons bringing the Scottish Cup back to the Granite City.

Aberdeen's Jamie McGrath (R) celebrates scoring to make it 1-0 against Kilmarnock. Image: SNS
Jamie McGrath is congratulated by his team-mates after scoring in the Scottish Cup quarter-final win against Kilmarnock. Image: SNS

Aberdeen enter the last chance saloon this weekend as they bid to salvage a frustrating and erratic season.

A season which promised so much has delivered precious little moments to savour in 2024.

Participation in the Europa Conference League produced some memorable moments and no doubt significant income for the club.

But it is also fair to suggest it also provided plenty of distractions from what has been a dismal league campaign.

When the club’s involvement in Europe ended in December the Dons had one last distraction before the end of the year in the shape of the League Cup final against Rangers.

Barry Robson’s side lost narrowly but since then the much-anticipated push up the table failed to materialise.

What has been left to focus on could have been viewed mostly through the gaps between your fingers for those brave enough to watch.

Interim manager has steadied the ship

Aberdeen interim manager Peter Leven at training on Friday. Image: SNS.
Aberdeen interim manager Peter Leven. Image: SNS.

It has been so tedious, so devoid of entertainment that two wins and two draws from the last four matches under interim manager Peter Leven represents the longest unbeaten run in the league for the club this season.

Leven has contributed a quarter of the club’s eight league wins in his six matches in charge.

He has guided the team to three clean sheets in the last four games, of which there have been only eight in total in the 33 league matches.

Leven, to his credit, has done an admirable job really.

He has been asked to pick up the pieces not once but twice with the 33-day reign of Neil Warnock arguably making Leven’s job even more difficult than what he had done in his brief one-game tenure following Robson’s dismissal.

The Dons were eighth in the Premiership, one point behind eight points behind fourth-placed Kilmarnock with two games in hand, when Leven handed over the reins to Warnock.

By the time he received them back the Dons had slipped to 10th and the gap between fourth place had widened to 15 points.

The more pressing concern was the four-point margin between Aberdeen and Ross County in 11th place.

Can Leven lead the Dons to the final?

Under Leven the Dons have scrapped and scraped their way to a less precarious position in the league but those same fighting qualities are going to be needed in abundance at the National Stadium on Saturday.

The Hoops have had Aberdeen’s number for a while and Brendan Rodgers in particular has been the scourge of the Dons.

Leven stopped Celtic from making it 10 league wins in a row against the Dons with a commendable 1-1 draw.

Going one better and beating them in a cup semi-final at Hampden would be a huge moment in Aberdeen’s season – and a much needed one.

Graeme Shinnie will miss the semi-final due to suspension. Image: Shutterstock

But it won’t be easy. The absence of their talisman skipper Graeme Shinnie, who will be watching from the stand due to suspension, has added to the degree of difficult.

It’s win-or-bust for the Dons as far and their hopes of competing in Europe this season.

A place in the final alone is not enough.

Aberdeen have to bring the cup back to the Granite City for the first time in 34 years or else it’s the comparably more mundane surroundings of the League Cup group stages which beckon.

The countdown is under way and all the talk from Pittodrie is of belief.

They can compete with Celtic, they can win the semi-final, they can lift the cup, they can qualify for Europe.

Here’s their chance to prove it.