BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Ash Taylor is confident Aberdeen can bring crack Croatians Rijeka back to Pittodrie with their Europa League qualifier at least still in the balance.
Taylor and his team-mates squeezed past Macedonians Shkendija last week on the away goals rule but are fully aware they face a significant step up in quality on the Adriatic coast on Thursday night.
The Croatians are undefeated at home in European competition since 2009 and defeated Standard Liege and Feyenoord in the Europa League group stages last year, when they also drew with holders and eventual back-to-back champions Sevilla.
They have pieced together a team packed with internationalists and finished second behind Dinamo Zagreb in their formidable domestic championship last term.
However, Taylor is certain manager Derek McInnes and his staff will have Aberdeen as well prepared as possible for the task ahead and the 24-year-old is optimistic the Dons can keep themselves well in the tie for the return at Pittodrie next week.
He said: “We know a bit about the Croatians already because the gaffer has been doing his homework and has been telling us what they’re all about.
“It’s important to be well clued up on their strengths and weaknesses going into this week.
“They are a very good side with a lot of international players in their team. Their home record in Europe has been excellent in recent seasons so we know it’s going to be tough.
“We’ll be looking to nullify their threat.
“But it’s not only about that because we have to focus on ourselves as well. You can’t focus everything on the opposition – we’ll be working on how we’re going to make an impact on the game.
“It will be important to keep our discipline across there and get back to Pittodrie. Hopefully we can get back to our place with plenty to play for.
“It would be a massive result if we can get through and play more ties.
“European football is tough and, although you can do all the talking, you don’t really know until you are out there.
“All you can do is prepare the best you can – which we will do – and then see what happens on the night when you cross that white line.
“It’s going to be a hard game but we’re going there with confidence in ourselves.”
Rijeka’s recent record in Europe may be impressive but Aberdeen can boast of their own exploits last season.
The Dons were given little hope of progress in the Europa League when they were drawn with Dutch side Groningen at the second qualifying round 12 months ago.
However, after a goalless stalemate at Pittodrie, the Reds secured a shock 2-1 victory away from home to set up a third qualifying round meeting with Real Sociedad, which they lost.
Taylor only joined the club last May and played in just two of the European games last year. But, having started both games this time round, he is in no mood for the continental adventure to end.
The stopper, who scored his side’s second in a 2-0 friendly win over Raith Rovers on Sunday, added: “I’m sure Rijeka will be looking at our previous games in Europe and will think we’re a decent team as well.
“We were up against a strong side in Groningen last season and put them out, so we’re looking to have a similar run this season.
“We know we’re capable of getting results at this level because we have a strong group of players.”