BY DARREN JOHNSTONE @CCP_Sport
Hearts defender Callum Paterson admits he would love to play his part in taking the club back into Europe.
The Tynecastle outfit have collectively set a top six finish as their initial target on their first season back in the Premiership, but that has not stopped Scotland Under-21 right-back Paterson aiming higher.
Paterson will never forget coming up against English giants Liverpool in the Europa League during his 2012/13 breakthrough campaign and he is desperate to get back to that stage.
Ahead of today’s battle at Aberdeen, third placed Hearts are on course to be competing on the continent again next term and Paterson insists they are more than capable of securing a top three qualification place.
He said: “Can we make Europe? Of course. Everybody wants to play in Europe and that is one of the biggest stages.
“You want to play for the national team, in the Champions League, World Cups and the Europa League is up there as one of the biggest competitions in the world as well.
“I have played in a couple of European games already. I played against Liverpool when we went down to Anfield and it was just a great experience.
“We didn’t go in there thinking we were going to beat Liverpool but the way we played, we only got beat 2-1 (on aggregate) and we were playing Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling. It was great to have the experience of that.
“We have cups to win and we will try and do well in them but we have to focus on doing well in the league if we want to play in Europe.
“We are a newly promoted team and we are looking at finishing in the top six first of all.”
Aberdeen meted out a harsh lesson to Hearts in a 3-1 victory at Tynecastle back in September and even though Celtic are tipped to run away with the title again, Paterson reckons the Dons are the arguably the most difficult side he has faced this season.
He added: “Who are the best team we’ve played so far? Probably Aberdeen.
“I’ve played against loads of good teams this season, which shows you the rising standards of the SPFL.
“Aberdeen have been the best team – the way they move the ball, they are a fast team, an attacking team and they score a lot of goals.
“They have Adam Rooney up there scoring all the time, Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes deliver balls into the box every two seconds.
“They have options too – David Goodwillie came in against us and they have a good, young squad with players such as Lawrence Shankland from the Scotland under-21s.
“They’re a good team and can mix and match it.”
Hearts got caught on the counter-attack against the Dons last time but Paterson has promised that they will not be exposed to those tactics at Pittodrie in today’s televised lunch-time encounter.
He added: “They were off a very good run of form and were flying at the time and did well, beating us at our own game.
“We’ll have to change our game plan and see if we can beat them. They have great players, depth, full of internationals and they put loads of early crosses in which we have to stop to get a result.”