Dundee United manager Jack Ross focused on progression past AZ Alkmaar

The Tannadice club face the Dutch side in the Europa Conference League third qualifying round.

By Press Association Published: 3 August 2022 - 1.05pm

Bullish Jack Ross insists Dundee United are fully intent on progressing past AZ Alkmaar as opposed to simply enjoying the experience of facing the highly-regarded Dutch side.

The Tannadice club play their first European match in a decade when they host the Eredivisie outfit in the first leg of their Conference League third qualifying round tie on Thursday.

A bumper crowd is expected for the glamour showdown with a team who have featured regularly in continental competition in recent times, but Ross is adamant the main objective is to progress to the play-off round.

“The fact we’ve drawn such an attractive tie, allied to the fact it’s grabbed the attention of supporters so much in terms of the crowd that will be in attendance tomorrow, means there is that air of excitement around it,” he said.

“It’s a tie we’re very much looking forward to but, ultimately for us as players and staff, it’s about progression. While for others there will be a sense of occasion, for us it’s business. We want to stay in Europe for as long as possible.

“I think it’s a tie we view as a challenging one but one we believe we can progress through. That message has been there for the players consistently: while we’re playing against a good team, it’s certainly not unachievable for us to progress through this round.”

Ross stressed that his team must approach the tie with a positive mindset and not view AZ – fifth in the Dutch top flight last term – as a more formidable opponent than some of the stronger sides in the Scottish Premiership.

“Alkmaar will provide a proper difficult test but I don’t think it’s beyond anything we face from some of the teams in our own league,” he said. “I feel at times we can go in with an inferiority complex in terms of Scottish teams in Europe but I don’t think that should be the case.

“Hopefully some of the achievements in recent years of other clubs reinforces that point. Just to reiterate, it’s a difficult challenge but certainly not one that’s insurmountable.”

Ross challenged his players to try and deliver a result that will be recalled by United supporters years down the line.

“Players always want to have tangible achievements to look back on and be part of something that people will talk about in years to come,” he said. “There were achievements, particularly around the 1980s at Dundee United, that those players and manager (Jim McLean) are still rightly lauded for by supporters.

“While we would have a long way to go to replicate any of that sort of achievement, what we do have within this tie is the chance to create something significant.

“Ultimately it would only take us to the next qualifying round but in terms of the calibre of opposition and attention around the tie, it would put a big marker down in terms of the progression of the club in recent years.”

United are still without the injured Peter Pawlett, but recently-signed Aziz Behich could be in the squad for Thursday’s match if his work permit comes through in time, while new signing Jamie McGrath is also in contention for a debut.

“The first leg is just a game in isolation for me,” said Ross. “It’s about winning that match. You can look at what you need as a platform to give you a chance of progression overall but for me it’s just about looking at this match in isolation, and any match in isolation you want to go and win. That’s the objective tomorrow evening.”

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