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Duncan Shearer: Defensive cavalry has arrived just in time for Aberdeen

Dons boss Barry Robson's options at the back have improved significantly ahead of Europa League play-off in Sweden.

Angus MacDonald made his first appearance of the season against Stirling Albion on Friday. Image: SNS.
Angus MacDonald made his first appearance of the season against Stirling Albion on Friday. Image: SNS.

The reinforcements are returning just in time as Aberdeen head to Sweden this week for their Europa League play-off first leg against BK Hacken.

There is little doubt this game spells danger for the Dons.

The Swedes are 20 games into their league campaign, are the highest scoring side in their homeland with 50 goals scored so far and they have just demolished Zalgiris Vilnius 8-1 on aggregate to set-up a play-off meeting with Barry Robson’s side.

It’s clear they are a good attacking side with a serious goal threat, but being away from home for the first leg will help the Dons.

It was always my preference in the European games I played for Aberdeen.

It doesn’t matter how much footage you watch or how well prepared the coaches are, as a player nothing beats that feeling out process of playing against your opponent.

By the time Thursday’s first leg has been played, Aberdeen will know what Hacken are all about.

The important bit is ensuring that knowledge can be put to good use by having a second leg where it’s still all to play for at Pittodrie next week.

Defensive options improve ahead of play-off

Aberdeen’s Rhys Williams. Image: Shutterstock.

The return of Angus MacDonald at Stirling Albion on Friday night in the Viaplay Cup was an important one for Barry.

The Aberdeen manager has had to field a makeshift backline in every game so far with full-backs playing in central defence and wingers operating as wing-backs.

So the return of MacDonald, who has been outstanding since arriving at Pittodrie in January, is a huge boost for the manager.

With Rhys Williams getting a run out with the Dons B team in the SPFL Trust Trophy game against Peterhead last week, Barry suddenly has defensive options.

Add in the news that new signing James McGarry has been undergoing a mini pre-season to put him in the frame for a debut on Thursday and suddenly we’re getting to the stage where the Dons defence will be nearer what we had all expected it to be.

Dons up and running after narrow win at Binos

The Dons head to Sweden having got off the mark with their first win of the season thanks to the 2-1 victory at Stirling on Friday.

I’m sure Reds fans were dreaming of another 5-0 win like last season’s group stage victory, but credit where it’s due to the home side.

Darren Young has put together a competitive Stirling Albion side and they are no pushovers.

They’ve shown that in the manner in which they’ve quickly adapted to life in League One after winning promotion last season.

But in cup football the name of the game is about getting through.

Ask Jim Goodwin if he would have settled for a scrappy 2-1 win at Darvel in the Scottish Cup back in January, if you don’t believe me.

County’s attacking threat can trouble Rangers

Ross County’s Simon Murray celebrates scoring to make it 3-1 against Airdrie. Image: SNS.

Aberdeen’s reward for beating the Binos will be a quarter-final trip to Dingwall to face Ross County.

It will be the second game in a double header with the two teams due to meet at Pittodrie just days before the tie in league duty, so both managers will be well versed on the opposition for the cup game.

The Staggies had their own scare on Saturday in a rollercoaster of a second round tie at Airdrie where they eventually ran out 4-3 winners.

County looked to be in control after racing into a 2-0 lead and quickly restored their two-goal advantage when the Diamonds pulled a goal back.

But Airdrie kept going and managed to get back to 3-3 to take the tie to extra-time.

Credit to County though, with the tie delicately poised they did not buckle and Eamonn Brophy came off the bench to score a dramatic winner to send his side through.

Malky will be thrilled to see Jordan White, Brophy and Simon Murray all getting on the scoresheet following Kyle Turner’s early opener and it augurs well for the team ahead of Saturday’s home game against Rangers.

While Michael Beale and his players are focused on facing PSV Eindhoven at Ibrox tonight, County have a full week to prepare for the visit of a Gers side who have yet to click into gear.

County are a team in transition themselves, as they will be this time next year, too.

But they look to have a serious goal threat in the final third and, Saturday apart, have been strong defensively so far.

The stage is set for a cracker in the Highlands.

Can Caley Thistle get off the mark at Airdrie?

Caley Thistle would do well to heed the warning of County’s scare at Airdrie as they return to action at the Diamonds on Saturday.

Airdrie came out on top in the group stage encounter in the Viaplay Cup last month and have shown they are a dangerous side.

They are a brave side, who take short goal-kicks and try to build from the back every time.

It’s a bold approach for a second tier side, but it has certainly been effective for them.

Like Stirling Albion, they look to have adjusted quickly to playing at a higher level after winning promotion last season and Billy Dodds and his Inverness players know they are in for a tough test this weekend.

Given Caley Jags go into this one having lost five in a row, I’m pretty sure Doddsy would take a point and a clean sheet to get off the mark on Saturday.