Barry Robson & players left to rue what might have been

“It’s been very up and down. We’ve had some horrendous performances and we’ve had some top, top performances in the big games.”

The reflections of captain Graeme Shinnie on Aberdeen’s season ring particularly true when reflecting on their rollercoaster European adventure.

An adventure that will now definitely not continue past Christmas after they failed to win away to PAOK, despite an commendable display in a spirited 2-2 draw in Greece.

It was another occasion in which Aberdeen impressed in spells, but ultimately, were undone by a failure to maintain their best for 90 minutes.

Again, a sense of what could have been is palpable from Pittodrie.

“I’m very proud of the team, the way went about it. We’ve gone toe-to-toe with a great team. We’re frustrated not to beat them at home and [then] a draw away,” Shinnie said.

“It’s been a real experience, it’s a lot different to what I’ve been used to. The boys are learning as we go.

“Being in a cup final is brilliant. We’re still fighting in the league. And in Europe, we’ve maybe not got what we deserved in terms of points but we can take a lot out of the performance.

“Overall, it’s been a good campaign and we’re disappointed not to take something out of it.”

Missed opportunities

That disappointment has been apparent at the end of every European outing in Group G. At times, Aberdeen have looked like they belonged at this level.

Heroic in defeat against Bundesliga heavyweights Eintracht Frankfurt, their exploits in Germany gave cause for optimism ahead of winnable home ties.

First, a lack of cutting edge meant that Bojan Miovski could rescue only a point in the most agreeable tie on paper with HJK Helsinki.

Next, their continental collapse at home to PAOK left the fans who revel in their club’s rich European history wondering if famous nights would ever return.

And again, despite Duk’s devastating finish and Jamie McGrath’s ferocious free-kick, their huffing and puffing wasn’t enough to keep the dream alive in Greece.

For manager Barry Robson, while the emotions are understandably conflicting, it’s pride that outweighs all else from their PAOK performance.

“A bit of disappointment for the players. I was so proud of them tonight. They gave us everything,” the Aberdeen manager said.

“We were 2-0 with 74 minutes at home [against PAOK] and we lost the game, but I thought the performance was excellent. I thought the performance against Eintracht Frankfurt was so good. I am so proud of that group.

“They are a new team. They haven’t spent a lot of time on the training pitch together. They’re also in a cup final, so we can only grow.”

Playing against a side that dismantled Hearts in August, Aberdeen gave a solid account of themselves, scoring four goals in two games.

Both encounters have left them bruised both mentally and physically. Once they’ve licked their wounds, once they’ve taken stock of the battles that they’ve endured, they may then be able to find belief that they belong.

“They got battered, but they stood up to it. Aberdeen had to show they were brave and courageous,” former Aberdeen captain Willie Miller said on Sportsound.

“The travelling support can be well-pleased, the players can be more than happy and Barry Robson can rightly say that he’s proud of what his players gave him.”

And while Robson will take some comfort in those efforts, like all those of an Aberdeen persuasion, one question will cast a shadow over their European travels: what if?

What if they had made it a famous night in Frankfurt? What if they had taken their early chances against Helsinki? What if they had kept cruising at home to PAOK?

Their mission now is to get back to this stage next season, and if they do, ensure that they don’t fly home with the same feeling of missed opportunity.


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