During the international break the manager spoke to redtv, covering a number of topics as he looked ahead to a very busy September:
“Viking Stavanger will be a tough game, especially drawn away from home. Once we saw the group we were in and the teams we could have got, Stavanger are probably the toughest. The Norwegian league is at the highest level of the three we could have faced so the draw did us no favours in that regard. But we have to go and deal with it and after the last four results, we go there with confidence.
“Both of us have real incentive with a trip to Sporting Lisbon waiting in the next round, which is obviously an exciting opportunity.
“It’s a bit like the last round in that the Norwegian season is well up and running, but obviously the quality of the opposition is far stronger this time. The flip side of that is that you do have better opportunity to watch them, you have more to look at and you get a better idea of what they’re about, how they play, where the strengths and weaknesses are. We monitor that league in the normal course of things anyway, so as a staff, we are familiar with them. As far as briefing the players goes, all that goes on the back burner until after the Kilmarnock game, because that is our only focus for the moment.
“We found our rhythm game by game before the break, we’ve got fitter and stronger as it’s gone on, performances improved game on game and now we want to take that improvement into this run of games, starting off with Kilmarnock.
“Maybe being behind closed doors neutralises the importance of being at home a little bit, certainly domestically. The crowds aren’t there to drive the home side on, to maybe influence referees too, and the emotion isn’t the same for players when they’re not under that pressure from supporters. They don’t really feel like away games so much this season in the way they normally do.
“We’ve enjoyed good results away from home all year, not just the start of the season and to be honest, we’ve tended to be a good away side generally over the years. I was really pleased with the result at Hibs because they’ve had a really good start to the season and they’ve had those couple of extra games to get going.
“The first half we did well, we got our goal to give us something to work with and from there, we still wanted to pose a danger on the counter-attack and on another day, we could have had a couple more goals. We set up the team with plenty of pace in it, the five in front of the midfield two can all move, they’re good runners, good ball carriers, and we wanted to try and make that count. One goal was enough in the end and you have to be happy to come away from Easter Road with a win at any time.
“Ross and Marley came here very eager to get going. Neither had been playing enough football and wanted to get on with their careers.
“Marley obviously wants his first goal as a striker but it hasn’t been an issue because his performances have been at a really good level, he’s contributing and we know what we will get from him. The goals will come but equally, he’s judged on more than that because he’s a front player that does a lot of work for the team on and off the ball. Again, he’s another who is getting fitter and stronger with games, he’s needed the games he’s had but we’ve had to be aware that we don’t ask too much from him either. With the chance we’ve had to do some work in training during the break, he’ll be ready for a full 90 minutes.
“Ross has made a big impression on everyone. He’s naturally fit and athletic so playing has been no problem to him. He just needs games from a point of view of getting sharper and you can see that coming game by game. I’ve read a lot that he chose Aberdeen over other clubs because of finances. That’s wrong, it was nothing to do with money, that wasn’t even mentioned in discussions with him. He was all about just wanting to play football and he saw this as the best place for him to do it.
“Tommie has come in and made a good contribution too, there’s a real assurance about him when he plays. His situation is obviously different given how long he’s been out injured for, we’ve had to be careful in what we can ask from him in terms of game time at present. He can’t play Thursday and Sunday at the moment because he is still completing that proper rehab. He can play anywhere in the back three, he can play at full-back, he uses the ball well, he’s quick, he’s good in the air and he brings a calmness to the pitch and to the players round about him. That’s always a good sign for me, a player who isn’t only dealing with his game but is making those around him better with his voice and his decision making.
“When we get Sam Cosgrove and Ryan Edmondson back amongst it, then we will have options at that end of the pitch and we need that because we are stretched there at the minute, especially with Curtis still finding his way back. Beyond that, I’m very comfortable with what we’ve got. We have switched between a back four and a back five at times this season, we’ve got good players who can play different systems. We want to get a front two on the pitch as much as we can, but we haven’t really had that opportunity yet.
“But in general, we have a squad that has quality, adaptability and gives us options, but as ever, you need a bit of luck with injuries. Too many times last season, injuries really affected us, not just in the teams I was able to pick but in the lack of competition. Healthy competition has always been good for us, our best spells and our best seasons have seen us having that. Yes we’ve had and have good individuals here but our strength at our best has always been the squad and hopefully that will be the case this season.
“It is going to be a busy time for us in the next few months especially. Hopefully we can have a good European run, we’ve got a couple of postponed games to catch up on, we’ve got hopefully two more games from last season’s Scottish Cup to play as well as this year’s cup competitions where we really want to make an impact as well, so it’s going to be demanding. I think that’s when we’re at our best though, when we’re really tested with a lot of fixtures and we find a way to deal with them.
“The spirit, the motivation within the squad is great and now all of the things from the beginning of the season are behind us, hopefully we can just focus on the football from here.”