ABERDEEN FC v NK MARIBOR
Derek McInnes gave Jayden Stockley the nod ahead of Kenny McLean with the manager choosing to play a 4-4-2 instead of the formation of 4-2-3-1. The teams were greeted to a great reception from the red army. Ticket sales were just over the 17,000 mark heading into kick-off, with the south stand and the main stand selling out.
The Dons went into the game as the underdogs, but started the game extremely strongly.
Maribor kicked off the game, with the Dons choosing to shoot away from the sun in the first half, which meant usually they were attacking the RDS in the first half. The hosts were nearly off to the perfect start when Adam Rooney neatly controlled a Niall McGinn free-kick. With his back to goal he put the ball across the face of goal and Jayden Stockley was only inches away from converting. From the resulting corner Stockley's header was cleared off the line. The manager's decision to play with two strikers already looked to be having an effect as Aberdeen created three openings in the first three minutes.
Aberdeen had started brilliantly and had another chance when Hayes went rampaging down the line and after he found McGinn, Niall went close with a volley.
A nervy exchange at the edge of the Aberdeen penalty box showed the kind of football Maribor are capable of producing. A last ditch Shay Logan tackle stopped Tavares from totally weaving his way through the Dons defence. With Joe Lewis diving early the defence was quick to react to Novakovic who had picked up the rebound.
Back came the Dons. Good tenacious play from Ryan Jack - who was superb tonight - won the Dons a corner. The ball was cleared but a defence mistake saw Rooney pounce. The Dons had a three on three but Adam was quite entitled to shoot as he had an opening. Keeper Handanovic only just got enough on the ball to keep it out.
The ball went underneath him but he was able to gather.
If the first 10 minutes were anything to go by it was shaping up to be a wonderfully entertaining tie. Aberdeen were looking considerably sharper than when they first lined up against CS Fola Esch four weeks earlier. Jonny Hayes made two blistering runs down the left wing, and a Niall McGinn free-kick nearly resulted in Ash Taylor troubling the goalkeeper.
With momentum going the way of the reds Maribor unleased a counter with Tavares beating Considine to find Kabha in the middle with his cross. Kabha didn't look balanced and put his shot well over the bar. A reminder to the hosts that while an attacking mentality is important with the crowd behind you, conceding an away goal would totally turn the tie around.
25 minutes in and Jonny Hayes was causing the visitors' defence problems again. He twisted and turned his way past Denis Sme, his pass found Jack in the middle who spread it out to the overlapping Andrew Considine and his brilliant cross was only just missed by Rooney and then by Stockley. It was a great opportunity for Adam to score who was only inches away from getting a touch.
The noise was beginning to build inside Pittodrie.
Despite both sides having chances to open the scoring the match levelled off between the half hour mark and the half time whistle. Maribor's best chance came when Hayes gave the ball away in the middle of the pitch. Tavares looked as if his square ball would see Aberdeen go a goal down, however a tremendous block by Shay Logan kept danger at bay.
Aberdeen regained control and had some good pressure in the closing stages of the half.
On 39 minutes there was a big penalty shout for the Dons as Adam Rooney's marker hauled him to the ground after Stockley had won yet another knock down. On 43 minutes they won a corner kick, where McGinn swept the ball in to the back post. Jayden Stockley's powerful header was brilliantly kept out by Handanovic.
Aberdeen had so many half chances but no one could get the all-important touch. As the reds jogged off at half time they would have felt they should have been ahead.
HALF TIME ABERDEEN FC 0 - 0 NK MARIBOR
The second half started with Aberdeen on the back foot. Maribor won a couple of corners which threatened but were successfully defended.
The Slovenian side had something of a "close shave" when Suler's header failed to connect with a Niall McGinn cross. Jayden Stockley had adjusted his run in anticipation of the clearance and was hugely unlucky not to be able to run onto the ball. While the big striker did manage to keep the ball in play his near post shot was turned away by Handanovic.
Having tried to play their way through the Maribor defence the Dons tried some route one football. McGinn hit a shot on the half volley wide on the right hand side, but it couldn't find the target. Even Ash Taylor was trying his luck from far out, but his shot went harmlessly wide.
After 75 minutes Derek McInnes made a double substitution looking to take advantage of a tiring Maribor defence. Wes Burns and Kenny McLean came on in place of Graeme Shinnie and Jayden Stockley. The pace of Burns looks like it will cause a lot of teams' problems in the season to come, and with Kenny's creativity it looked to be a good move from the manager. Says a lot about the squad when you have players of that ability coming off the bench.
After 80 minutes it looked like, finally, the deadlock had been broken. Aberdeen broke well through the middle and McGinn flicked the ball through to Adam Rooney who, as he so often does, finished in style. The celebrations had already started when the linesman raised his flag for offside. Rooney himself did not complain at the decision, indicating he was indeed offside.
In a cruel manner the deadlock was broken a couple of minutes later when Ash Taylor couldn't control the run of Novakovic who finished brilliantly into the left hand corner from inside the box. It was a goal that came totally against the run of play and stunned Pittodrie.
The Dons really had been hit but a sucker punch.
With the final whistle approaching the Dons threw everything at Maribor. With five minutes to go Logan played a deep ball into the area which Taylor knocked down for Rooney. Adam did well to hold the ball in before laying it off to Hayes and he drilled it past Handanovic. The reds were level!
With four minutes added on there was time for a few more Dons attacks. Wes Burns smashed a shot towards goal but it was deflected away from the danger area. A quick free-kick from McGinn could only find the goalkeeper's gloves, as his curling ball was too far away from the pack of chasing players.
The full time whistle went on what had been a thoroughly entertaining night of football at Pittodrie. Maribor can
walk away the happier of the two teams having scored a crucial away goal, but Aberdeen, having played some very good attacking football, can go into the return leg knowing they are still in with a chance. Having enjoyed some great European nights over the past couple of seasons, we know that it is still all to play for in Maribor.
FULL TIME ABERDEEN FC 1 - 1 NK MARIBOR