Aberdeen playmaker Leighton Clarkson hopes to take another step towards regaining his best form in Thursday’s Europa Conference League match away to PAOK.
After impressing last term while on loan from Liverpool, the 22-year-old has struggled for much of this season following his much-hyped permanent transfer to Pittodrie and found himself out of Barry Robson’s starting XI for the majority of matches since the start of September.
However, his return to the team has coincided with back-to-back victories over Motherwell in the cinch Premiership last week and Hibernian in the Viaplay Cup semi-final on Saturday.
The midfielder is particularly heartened by the way he played in last Wednesday’s 4-2 win at Fir Park.
“I’m a player who likes to get a lot of touches of the ball and I felt that day I managed to get control of the game and we almost passed them off the park in the first half, which is something we’ve probably not done all season,” he told RedTV.
“I felt really good about myself and I want to keep kicking on from that and help the lads with goals and assists because I’ve not done that as much as I’d have liked to.”
Clarkson admits he has struggled to deal with opposition teams paying closer attention to him this term.
“I remember last year the gaffer dropped me a bit deeper to try and control games and I felt like teams didn’t really know how to pick up on that,” he said.
“We were on a winning streak and confidence was high but obviously this season teams are trying to nullify me. I’ve just got to find a way of being better than that and finding a way to deal with it so I can help the team.”
Aberdeen’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout phase appear slim as they have taken just one point from their first three group matches against Eintracht Frankfurt, HJK Helsinki and PAOK, although the Dons have competed well on each occasion.
Their last match at home to the Greeks was particularly frustrating as they led 2-0 before succumbing to a 3-2 defeat in the closing stages, but Clarkson hopes they have learned from that setback ahead of the rematch in the hostile Toumba Stadium.
“We felt comfortable in that game but football can change so quickly,” said Clarkson. “I’d just come on and I was trying to get into the game but before you know it Richie (Richard Jensen) slips and there’s nothing he can do about it but just that moment of luck they had at that point lets them back into the game.
“But 2-0 up against anybody, we should be seeing that out. We were all gutted afterwards because we felt really comfortable.
“They’re a really good side but we also know we can hurt them. We need to stay in the game for as long as possible, that’s what we’ve done in every Conference League game. We’ve been in every game but it’s just about cutting out mistakes because the big teams punish you.
“A lot of us have not experienced this before, and little mistakes, fine margins, you get punished and that’s something we need to learn from and improve on going into our league and cup games.
“The European games have all been massive games in big stadiums, with great atmospheres and I’m sure PAOK will probably be the best (atmosphere) of the lot so we’re all really excited about going out there and playing our game, but we’re going out there to try and win.”
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