Derek McInnes was dealt a blow ahead of kick off with hitman Adam Rooney ruled out of the squad. New boy Nicky Maynard was given the nod, his first start for Aberdeen. Greg Stewart kept his place in the side after having a great game in Bosnia the week before. The returning Kari Arnason was on the bench. The game was announced as a sell out just two hours before kick-off. The Red Army turning out in numbers to back the team was something the manager asked for earlier in the week, stating that the support meant everything to the club.
The noise inside the ground before kick-off was excellent. Aberdeen came flying out of the traps and Shinnie was booked early on for a strong challenge but he did get the ball. Aberdeen also wasted no time in showing their quality. Ryan Christie continued his excellent start to the season by heading a Gary Mackay-Steven cross into the corner of the net. It was a tremendous delivery from GMS and an even better header from Ryan. After only four minutes it was the dream start! Considine also deserves credit for starting the move.
The Dons got out of jail shortly afterwards when Apollon broke down the left and managed to get two shots away on goal from close range. Shinnie thankfully managed to drag the ball clear after getting his body in the way. Both the Apollon full-backs were playing very high up the pitch. The Dons then enjoyed some control of the game. Aberdeen were winning plenty of set pieces in dangerous areas with O'Connor and Considine getting their heads on the crossed balls without overly troubling keeper Bruno Vale. The free kicks were coming thick and fast due to the high number of fouls. Greg Stewart in particular was getting a lot of treatment.
Mackay Steven and Greg Stewart were beginning to really trouble the visiting full backs. A lovely sweeping move between Stewart and Logan opened up the defence leading to a half chance for Nicky Maynard. After 20 minutes, most of Pittodrie felt the Dons should have had a man advantage after another bad challenge on Greg Stewart. The winger looked in a lot of pain as Esteban Sachetti completely took him out, but after the
Finnish referee took time to review the situation, he produced a yellow card.
Apollon were starting to come into the game and produced a couple of very good counter attacks at real pace. Reynolds then took a knock after tracking back well, fortunately he was able to continue. Limassol needed a tactical foul to keep Aberdeen out after 38 minutes when Yuste brought down Maynard who was rushing through on goal. Another yellow card. The big striker was away from his man and was waiting for a cross. The set piece gave Mackay-Steven the chance to deliver a ball into the area, which Andy Considine couldn't quite turn towards goal.
After 40 minutes Graeme Shinnie gave away possession. A number of Dons players at this point were guilty of this. The captain did well to recover in the penalty area after getting caught on the ball, even managing to turn defence into attack. Maynard was caught offside from the ball forward though.
Full of confidence, Ryan Christie had a long shot fly over the crossbar with a couple of minutes until half time. With the form Ryan's in, it was worth a go. That capped off a very strong first half from Aberdeen who looked sharp and confident going forward. While a one goal advantage was pleasing on the eye, a clean sheet would have made Derek McInnes happier after the first 45 minutes.
Half Time: Aberdeen 1-0 Apollon Limassol
The Dons looked to press home the advantage straight from the restart with Stewart closing in on the right hand side, but he was unable to find Maynard who was waiting in the middle. The ball was just slightly behind him. Maynard did not have a lot of joy in front of goal tonight but worked so hard for the team. Mackay-Steven then took advantage of a slip in the Apollon Limassol defence, driving forward on the left. He had space and time for the cross but once again Maynard was left without a shooting chance despite a good run. A good opportunity wasted.
On the 50 minute mark a better cross from GMS led to Logan playing the ball to Shinnie who burst into the box. The captain did well to beat his man but keeper Vale was smartly off his line to smoother the shot. From looking in the ascendancy, the Dons were then forced onto the back foot. The visitors were playing high up the park and their confidence was growing. It was similar to what happened at Pittodrie against Siroki. Half time substitute Antonio Jakolis, who signed just this week for the Cypriot side, was causing problems down the right. After a number of close calls and living dangerously Aberdeen were punished after the hour mark when a slick counter attack from Apollon Limassol saw Jander Santana equalise at the back post. It was a quality cross and decent finish from the left back who broke free from Mackay-Steven.
You have to say the goal was coming.
Derek McInnes made two changes straight after the goal bringing on Stockley and Arnason for Maynard and Mackay Steven. Whilst that was happening the Apollon manager was sent to the stand for over celebrating.
After the sucker punch of losing an away goal Christie went direct and ran straight through the defence only to be denied by the outrushing Vale. The keeper made a decent stop with his feet. Aberdeen needed a lift to get the crowd back into the game and they got it after a superb bit of skill from Christie on 70 minutes. His delightful flick on the touchline draw the foul from Sachetti who was promptly was shown a second yellow. On review it could easily have been straight red.
With 15 minutes left, the manager gave Scott Wright the chance to change the game. Reynolds made way after taking a number of rough challenges. With hopes of a winner starting to diminish gradually, as both teams started to tire, it needed a bit of inspiration from someone. Step forward Graeme Shinnie.
Shinnie was treading a fine line having been booked early on but was still trying to drive on his team He'd had a few efforts on goal but saved the best for the 77th minute, a 30 yard screamer diagonally across the keeper.
What a goal! There weren't many men on the pitch who would have enjoyed that moment more than Graeme. It was one of the biggest roars heard from Pittodrie in a long time. With the crowd now driving them on, the Dons had a few chances to put themselves further ahead. Ryan Christie looked threatening around the penalty area and Stockley had a header which trickled wide. The addition of Scott Wright sparked excitement around the ground.
However both teams had little energy left in the closing stages and Aberdeen had to settle for the 2-1 win.
It will be tough, Apollon looked a more than useful outfit, but let's hope next week's trip to Cyprus will hopefully create more great European memories for the Red Army.