• Aberdeen lost 2-1 to FC Kairat last Thursday with Kenny McLean scoring a crucial Europa League away goal
  • They will now take on the Kazakhstan outfit at a packed Pittodrie on Thursday
  • Manager Derek McInnes has called for his players to keep a cool head
  • Aberdeen remain on course for a first appearance in the competition’s group stages since Jimmy Calderwood’s side succeeded in 2008

Scott Davie For The Scottish Daily Mail

Passionate European nights at Pittodrie have been rare for those long-suffering Aberdeen fans whose thirst for glory is sated only by memories of the past.

Yet on Thursday night the old stadium will be packed to the rafters as the visit of FC Kairat offers up a tantalising opportunity for progress in the Europa League.

Last week’s heroic performance in a 2-1 defeat in Almaty handed Derek McInnes’ side a lifeline in a tie that could easily have slipped into the formality category for tonight’s visitors.

On Wednesday Aberdeen's players trained on their Pittodrie pitch ahead of their second leg

On Wednesday Aberdeen’s players trained on their Pittodrie pitch ahead of their second leg

Ryan Jack and co will be looking forward to taking on Kazakhstan's FC Kairat at home

Ryan Jack and co will be looking forward to taking on Kazakhstan’s FC Kairat at home

Two goals up and seemingly cruising, Kenny McLean’s strike punctured the air of superiority that had previously enveloped the stadium in Kazakhstan.

McInnes insists his players will relish the atmosphere on Thursday but warned they must play with their heads, not their hearts to progress.

Such has been the demand for tickets that even the usual away section of the South Stand has been given over to the Red Army. Only 50 FC Kairat supporters have made the marathon journey.

Aberdeen have reached this stage of the competition largely on the strength of their away displays. The away-goals rule saw them eliminate KF Shkendija of Macedonia in the first round while an impressive 3-0 win in Croatia effectively took care of HNK Rijeka.

Both home legs finished in draws while last summer’s demolition of Daugava Riga remains Aberdeen’s only victory at Pittodrie in five European ties under McInnes.

Manager Derek McInnes insists Aberdeen must play with their heads, not their hearts to progress

Manager Derek McInnes insists Aberdeen must play with their heads, not their hearts to progress

That winning ratio has to be increased this evening and the manager is certain he has the game plan to make it happen.

‘We’ve been close (to a capacity crowd) with the games against Sociedad and Celtic but it will be great to have a sell-out,’ McInnes told Sportsmail. ‘The more backing we get the better.

‘It will be a great sight for the players to walk out and see the South Stand full of Aberdeen fans.

‘But we always stress to players to not allow the need or desire of the support to override any situation.

‘Whether we are winning, losing or drawing, we need to have confidence in what we are trying to do.

‘We try not to let anything affect that — but it’s important to utilise the crowd and try to impose ourselves in the game.

 Only 50 FC Kairat supporters have made the marathon journey to north west Scotland

 Only 50 FC Kairat supporters have made the marathon journey to north west Scotland

‘Whether we get an early goal or the game doesn’t quite pan out how we want, it’s important we win the game.

‘It’s about getting the balance between passion and energy and a measured approach.’

Aberdeen remain on course for a first appearance in the group stages since Jimmy Calderwood’s side succeeded in the last year of the UEFA Cup back in 2008.

On that occasion, Aberdeen had to negotiate just one qualifying tie against Dnipro two months into the domestic campaign.

In the past two years, the club have been back in competitive action in early July, losing out to Real Sociedad at the same stage of the competition last year. They will be unseeded for the play-off round should they manage to overcome FC Kairat this evening, which would mean another tough draw.

The Dons' goalkeeper Scott Brown remained focused at training ahead of the Thursday tussle

The Dons’ goalkeeper Scott Brown remained focused at training ahead of the Thursday tussle

But McInnes believes even making it through to the play-off round would be a major achievement for a side which has had to beat the odds as well as some quality opposition.

‘For any team to progress through the rounds, it’s getting tougher and tougher,’ he said.

‘Apart from the Latvians last year, we’ve not had an easy game. Every one has been tough; the Macedonians, the Croatians, and last year we had Groningen and Sociedad. It’s been tough draws, so we’re having to do it the hard way.

‘That’s why I think it would be an absolutely brilliant achievement even to reach the play-off round — and then even better to win again to get to the group stage.

‘For a Scottish team to reach the group stage would be a real achievement. You would have to define that as a successful European campaign if we can get there.

Kenny McLean scored a crucial away goal to give his side hope of continuing their European adventure

Kenny McLean scored a crucial away goal to give his side hope of continuing their European adventure

‘It won’t be easy as I think Kairat will back themselves to score. That’s the way they play, but I think they’ll manage their game in a way when they know the onus is on us to find the answers.

‘We must make sure we are clever in our approach but do all we can to apply pressure as often as we can.’

Aberdeen captain Ryan Jack was impressed by Kairat last week and in particular the performance of veteran midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk.

Jack may be 13 years his junior but admitted the man who has made 140 appearances for Ukraine proved he still has a lot to offer.

‘It was a great experience going up against him,’ said Jack. ‘Tymoshchuk has played at the top level — and for Bayern Munich a couple of years ago.

‘He is a very good player but they have others and we will need to be at the top of our game to get a good result.’

 

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