This Thursday, FC Groningen travel to Scotland to face Premiership side Aberdeen in the UEFA Europa League Second Qualifying Round First Leg. Total Dutch Football asked Aberdeen fan Chris Rumbles, to give us a rundown on what The Dons are all about.
Despite a multitude of links to the Netherlands via former players and managers, this will be only the second time Aberdeen has faced Dutch opposition in Europe. The Dons previous Eredivisie encounter was a 2-2 aggregate loss to Feyenoord in the 1987/1988 UEFA Cup Second Round, a tie that came shortly before Aberdeen’s influx of players from the Netherlands that included the signings of Paul Mason and Theo ten Caat, both from FC Groningen. Since the club’s halcyon European days in the 80s (excluding the Feyenoord result of course), success at both domestic and European level has been a rarity. Derek McInnes’ first full season in charge as manager in 2013/2014 was a fruitful one that served as a reminder of the potential of the club. The Pittodrie side’s victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the League Cup Final in March put an end to the club’s twenty-year long trophy drought, and in an instant Derek McInnes’ side reinstated a sense of footballing pride in the North-East of Scotland. To borrow a phrase from the music world, Aberdeen is now preparing for that difficult second album.
When the outgoing Craig Brown claimed he had left his successor Derek McInnes a ‘legacy’, many baulked at the notion. But one shouldn’t forget that club captain Russell Anderson, defensive partner Mark Reynolds, tricky winger Jonny Hayes, and Aberdeen’s talisman, Niall McGinn, were all Brown signings who were integral to last season’s achievements. Those four are part of a strong starting eleven that typically sets up in a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation that sees the three supporting the lone striker usually interchanging. The midfield can also be flattened to a five or a four with an attacking midfielder depending on the opposition.
Goalkeeper Jamie Langfield is now in his tenth season with the club and last season was potentially the 34-year-old’s best yet. Though capable of the calamitous as much as miraculous, Langfield has cut out many of the major errors that have punctuated his Pittodrie career, earning 15 league clean-sheets out of 38 fixtures last season to take his overall tally in Scotland’s top-flight to 102. Contributing to Langfield’s shutout record in recent times has been the dependable centre-half partnership of Russell Anderson and Mark Reynolds. Anderson’s vast experience coupled with Reynold’s pace and reading of the game, make up one of Scotland’s best defensive pairings. The permanent signing of Shaleum Logan this summer following a highly successful six month loan spell from Brentford will undoubtedly prove to be an astute one. The English right-back has given Aberdeen fans something they have been crying out for years: a genuine fullback. The left flank however remains one of Aberdeen’s real weaknesses. Centre-half Andy Considine and winger Jonny Hayes both filled in for the matches against FK Daugava Riga in the absence of the injured Clark Robertson. Even with Robertson fit again, his relative inexperience renders the left-back position a weakness which most fans believe is a transfer priority.
Last summer’s signings of Willo Flood and Barry Robson; have given the Dandies’ midfield a new lease of life. The addition of Flood in particular has been pivotal to the Dons injecting an energy and tenacity into midfield that had, until then, been lacking. Flood has been described by his manager as the ‘heartbeat’ of the Aberdeen team; testament to the diminutive Dubliner’s duty of disrupting the opposition’s rhythm and catalysing Aberdeen’s. Alongside Flood in central midfield is usually Ryan Jack, though Barry Robson can often partner his former Dundee United, Celtic, and Middlesbrough colleague depending on other personnel. Jack’s deep-lying midfield role is a quiet but often effective one, dictating play while giving others license to roam forward. Robson, meanwhile, provides a level of nous and vision from his favoured central position as well as from the right. His arrival at the club has seen the Dons become a real threat from set-pieces thanks to the 35-year-old’s pinpoint accuracy. From the bench, Nicky Low and Cammy Smith can also provide urgency and skill around midfield in equal measure, despite their inexperience.
Of the Dons forward contingent, Jonny Hayes is undoubtedly in the best form at the time of writing. Hayes set-up three and scored one across the two–legged affair with FK Daugava Riga. His injury in Riga will be a concern to an Aberdeen side already bereft of options on the left-side. Another potential absentee for the Groningen tie is Peter Pawlett. No stranger to the treatment table, Pawlett gave his footballing career a much-needed shot in the arm last season with a host of dazzling performances that culminated in his first Scotland call-up in May. Pawlett provides Aberdeen with pace and a focus on one thing: attacking. His seven goals last season were a significant improvement on his 1 other Aberdeen goal scored over the previous five seasons.
Two players who have found the net for Aberdeen on a more regular basis are Niall McGinn and Adam Rooney. Signed as an out-and-out striker, McGinn’s first two seasons at Aberdeen have seen the Northern Ireland international score 35 goals in 84 games. He is, in every sense, Aberdeen’s number ten. Full of creativity and skill, McGinn’s role has altered since his first season under Brown, but even in a wider role last season he still finished top scorer with 14 goals. That number is also the total number of goals McGinn’s fellow Irishman Adam Rooney has scored since joining the Dons in January from Oldham Athletic, including five of Aberdeen’s eight goals against FK Daugava Riga. His performance in the away leg last week typified what he offers Aberdeen: a penalty-box striker with real presence. Brought into challenge, or possibly complement Rooney, is recent signing David Goodwillie. The striker’s free transfer to Aberdeen comes after a barren three-year spell with Blackburn Rovers that promised so much after a multi-million pound move from Dundee United. Goodwillie’s chequered off-the-field past is perhaps reflected in the length of the contract, but the three-times capped Scotland player will be hoping his latent talent will emerge to prove any doubters wrong.
The post-match scenes that followed Aberdeen and FC Groningen’s last competitive matches of the past season could not have been further apart; the Dons were crestfallen as Motherwell beat them with the last kick of the game, forsaking second spot to their opponents on the day. FC Groningen, meanwhile, celebrated after they dismantled AZ 3-0 in the Europa League play-off, providing a return to European football following a seven year absence. Yet despite these contrasting fortunes, it might just be the Dons who enter the tie the more confident of the two with the extra qualifying round bolstering both their match sharpness and experience ahead of what is set to be a stern test for both teams. It is a tie Dons supporters will go into with realistic, rather than quixotic, hopes.
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