Aberdeen Under 18s advanced to the next round of the Scottish Youth Cup on Friday night after grinding out a hard-fought victory over a strong Queen's Park side at Cormack Park.
After a break for Barry Robson's side, which involved Blessing Oluyemi, Blair McKenzie, Findlay Marshall, Adam Emslie, captain Dylan Lobban, Liam Harvey and Alfie Bavidge all jetting out to the US to be involved with the first teams mid-season break in Atlanta, the young Dons returned on a bitterly cold night, looking to pick back up where they left off weeks ago against Hamilton Accies.
Queen's Park included keeper Callan McKenna and forward Lennon Connolly who are both involved with Scotland.
Aberdeen started well, with Lobban putting the first chance of the match wide. Liam Harvey and Bavidge both had chances of their own soon after, but they were both equally as tame, and caught by Callan McKenna in the visitor's goal.
Oluyemi was called into action just before the twenty-minute mark, Liam McVey launched a free-kick from a dangerous position into the box, but the young Dons goalie came out and gathered comfortably.
On 24 minutes Aberdeen had the ball in the back of the net, Victor Enem cleared off the line for the Dons down one end, the pace of the Aberdeen counterattack was frightening and within a matter of seconds they were charging forward. As the ball was played in, Harvey had the initial shot inside the area which was blocked, and when the ball fell to Bavidge, he as usual, made no mistake and finished first time. 1-0 Aberdeen.
Barry Robson's side had a number of good chances in the first half - Alfie Stewart had a volley which like the efforts of Harvey and Bavidge before him, was too near to the keeper.
Queen's Park responded to the opener with a chance of their own, Timan Scott latched onto the end of a defence cutting long ball but was eventually denied.
Full back Brendan Hamilton found himself in a very forward position down the left-hand side on the half hour mark, electing to shoot, his effort was powerful and well placed, forcing an athletic save out of McKenna. Minutes later Hamilton found himself in the referee's book after cynically stopping a Queen's breakaway on the halfway line.
Then the visitors, who had competed well in the open period, were deservedly level in the match on the 35th minute. Scott managed to get a shot away in a crowded box after a Queen's Park corner had not been cleared, his effort looped over Oluyemi, off the bar, and into the back of the net.
As Queen's Park grew in confidence, they started knocking the ball about with pace in the final third and right on the stroke of half time the visitors won a penalty after clever move on the right resulted in a foul inside the area. Scott made no mistake from twelve yards, sending Oluyemi the wrong way and coolly slotting home.
The young Dons had a lot of work to do to salvage their hopes of advancing in the cup.
Half time: Aberdeen 1 Queen's Park 2
The start of the second half saw chances at both ends, Lennon Connolly was the first to pass up an opportunity, his shot was saved comfortably as the away team hunted for a third goal. Ten minutes into the half Hamilton intercepted a slack Queen's Park ball, drove down the line and swung a pinpoint ball to the back post, but Harvey was unable to divert his effort onto the target.
Queen's Park then missed a golden opportunity to go 3-1 up when striker Luke Lickrish pushed a shot just wide. A real let off for the young Dons.
Just before the hour mark Harvey made way with Lewis Pirie coming on up top in an attempt to inject some freshness into the Dons attack.
The change appeared to rejuvenate Aberdeen, and they were soon level in the tie, it was Bavidge getting his second, attacking a cross with great confidence and volleying home. A brilliantly controlled finish. 2-2, Game on.
That is now 16 goals in his last six games for Alfie.
Aberdeen then had a golden chance to turn the tie back on its head and take the lead only a few minutes after the leveller. Bavidge fired a cross into the box only for the ball to be met by the hand of Ben Ferguson on its travels, there was no hesitation from the referee, and the young Dons had a penalty.
Bavidge stepped up to seal what would have been another hat-trick for the young centre forward, but this time his penalty was fired over the bar, and the score remained level.
Thankfully however Lewis Pirie took his chance soon after the missed penalty, after running through on goal the substitute made no mistake, placing the ball under the goalie to give his side the lead.
A really composed finish.
Aberdeen had a couple of chances to seal the win, Marshall forced a smart stop from McKenna - the Scotland youth international keeper had a very good game - and Pirie almost grabbed his second when he rounded the keeper but the last defender did very well to get back and make the block.
The last twenty minutes were tough on the young Dons as they tried to hold firm and see off every Queen's Park chance that got thrown at them; substitute Josh Howe had a shot saved.
Alfie Bavidge was replaced with minutes on the clock, Cammy Wilson was introduced for the closing stages.
There was only to be a few more chances for the visitors, Aberdeen survived a scramble in the box on 90 minutes with Oluyemi extremely grateful to eventually grasp hold and collapse onto the ball.
Deep into injury time Queen's Park had a final corner which saw everyone flood the box, including the keeper, but again the delivery was just off the mark and despite McKenna getting closest, it sailed past everyone and out for a throw.
That was to be the last chance of the encounter, and Aberdeen were able to hold onto the victory. It was a very tight clash and the young team were pushed all the way, but despite not being at their best, they had enough to advance into the 4th round.
"The only thing I was pleased about today was the result.
"You could see that we have not been together for the last three or four weeks. We have had players away with the first team, we have had a couple of injuries. We have not trained as a team and it showed in our fluency. We looked a bit jaded. Once the cohesion with the ball goes, then the pressing goes, then the distances go, and it has a knock-on effect throughout the team.
"For all the plaudits we have had in the last little while of how fast and exciting we have been, we were anything but that today.
"At half time, I made the point if you are not at it every game, not alert or sharp as you should be, then you will struggle. In a game of football, you need to be at it every time you play in every aspect. We just never got it right anywhere on the pitch today. You get days like that, but we still found a way to win which is pleasing.
"Don't get me wrong, we still created a lot of chances which we missed.
"You also have to give credit to the opposition.
"Queen's Park wanted to pass the ball, and they do that very well. We knew that, we tried to combat that by pressing really high but we never got that right either today.
"Also, you have to earn the right to be a good possession based team. And I don't think we passed the ball well enough.
"I thought Lewis Pirie did well when he came on. He is putting pressure on the other two strikers.
That is great, that is what football is all about. I was pleased with him.
"He came on and took his goal very well. There were another couple of times when we could have slid him in.
"You can see he enjoys playing in this team. He will enjoy playing in this team as we will create chances for him. Hopefully we can go on and score a few more goals for us this season.
"We have another big game next Friday against Rangers in the league.
"We need to get back on the training ground. The boys who have been away looked a big jet lagged. It was great for them to be away with the first team, but we have to get everyone back as a group and work on how we want to play. Everything was out of sync today and that was always my fear.
"They have learned today if you are not totally at it you will struggle but credit goes to the boys because they dig in and won the game."