Two goal hero Ryan Hedges is confident Aberdeen can make the group stages of Europe for the first time since 2007.
Hedges’ second half brace fired Aberdeen past Icelanders Breidablik 2-1 (5-3 on aggregate) to set up a Europa Conference League play-off showdown with Qarabag.
Aberdeen face the Azerbaijan side in Baku on Thursday with the mercury set to hit as high as 35 degrees in the evening.
As well as the 5,100 mile round trip and the searing heat the Dons will face a seasoned Euro outfit that has reached the group stages of Europe every season since 2014.
Despite the challenge Hedges reckons the Dons can emulate the 2007-08 team that reached the UEFA Cup group stages where they played Atletico Madrid, Panathinaikos, FC Copenhagen and Lokomotiv Moscow.
The 26-year-old said: “I can’t wait to get over to Azerbaijan and then another packed out second leg here .
“We can do it over two legs.”
👋🏽 Good morning Red Army. 🔴
— Aberdeen FC (@AberdeenFC) August 13, 2021
A 15,107 strong Red Army packed out Pittodrie to cheer on the Dons’ bid to reach the play-offs.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown it was the first time Pittodrie had been at full operating capacity since March last year.
Welsh international Hedges believes Aberdeen’s supporters can be key to securing progress to the groups for the first time in more than a decade.
He said: “A full Pitttodrie is huge.
“It is something we have missed and it is great they are back and in really good numbers.
“Hopefully these performances will keep bringing in fans and especially for this next home one.”
In form Hedges a wanted man in England
Aberdeen recently rejected a £500,000 bid from a Championship club for Hedges who is out of contract at the end of the season.
The Reds have tabled a new contract offer to the attacker that would make him one of the highest earners at the club.
Great to see Pittodrie rocking tonight and buzzing to get back amongst the goals. See you all in the next round 🙌🏼⚽️ https://t.co/GhrxJmKG1T
— Ryan Hedges (@RyanHedges95) August 12, 2021
Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers have previously expressed an interest in the play-maker who underlined his importance to the Reds with his two goal salvo.
Hedges reckons he should have hit twice as many goals against Breidablik.
He said: “I am over the moon to get the goals but more importantly to get into the next round.
“It should have been three or four.”
The resurrection of Funso Ojo
After a flat opening 45 minutes Aberdeen boss Stephen Glass made two changes at half-time and switched to a back four.
He introduced Funso Ojo and Connor McLennan for Dylan McGeouch and Declan Gallagher.
Ojo made an immediate impact with a sensational run and dribble from deep in midfield into the Icelander’s penalty area.
He displayed magnificent close foot-work to step beyond Damir Muminovic before hitting the byline and cutting back a pass for Hedges to score.
— Aberdeen FC (@AberdeenFC) August 12, 2021
It was yet another key moment in the resurgence of Ojo at Pittodrie.
Last January Ojo’s Dons career appeared to be coming to a close when the midfielder was sent on loan to Wigan Athletic in League One.
Ojo even admitted he feared his time at Pittodrie was over. However he was a surprise starter in the first game of the season, a 5-1 Europa Conference League defeat of BK Hacken and has continued to impress since then.
Hedges hailed Ojo’s game changing contribution.
Hedges said: “For the first goal Funso did superbly and all the credit must go to him.
“He changed the game and was a real spark for us.
“For the second goal it was good build-up. “It was a good ball into Chris (Ramirez) from Funso and it has fallen really nice for me.
“I’ve got the angle on the ball and the keeper hasn’t really seen it.”