There was heartbreak for the Dons, beaten by a late fightback by PAOK having been 2-0 up on the night.
Following the 0-0 draw with St Johnstone before the international break some 18 days ago, there were two changes to Barry Robson’s starting XI, Jack MacKenzie and Dante Polvara coming in for Jonny Hayes and Duk, who started from the bench. Rhys Williams, Or Dadia, Findlay Marshall and Jack Milne were also among the subs.
PAOK beat Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 at home in the last game in this competition to maintain their 100% record, but there were five changes for them from that one, with Soares, Tsingaras, Schwab, Brandon and Konstantelias all starting. Meite missed the game through suspension, while Baba, Ozdoev, Murg and Samatta all dropped to the bench.
It was a brisk start in a brisk breeze from the Dons, Nicky Devlin’s inviting ball forward almost getting Bojan Miovski in on goal in the opening minute, but a heavy first touch saw the ball run away from him.
A Graeme Shinnie burst forward won Aberdeen a free-kick some 30 yards out in the eighth minute, Connor Barron’s direct effort too high to trouble Kotarski in the PAOK goal.
There was a let off for Aberdeen on 12 minutes, superb tight control from Konstantelias taking him into the box and beyond a string of challenges before his stabbed shot at goal clipped the bottom of the post and bounced to safety. A goal of the group contender had it gone in, but fortunately, it was merely a hard luck story for the visitors.
PAOK were beginning to find their rhythm as the half wore on, clearly a technically gifted team who were very comfortable in possession, pushing the Dons further and further back towards the Red Shed.
A cleverly played free-kick from deep gave Jamie McGrath something to run onto in the 28th minute but the Greek side quickly snuffed out the danger and were back up the other end to win a corner with seconds. They threw eight men into the box, but the short corner routine was wasteful.
A nice lay-off from McGrath gave MacKenzie the chance to come inside on 33 minutes but his effort from 30 yards out flew into the crowd. Schwab was cautioned four minutes later for a late lunge on McGrath on the Aberdeen left. PAOK defended Barron’s free-kick well and were on the counter. Konstantelias again showed remarkable close control to create space for a shot, but Kelle Roos dealt with it to keep the scores level.
Schwab had a great chance to opening the scoring on 43 minutes, Zivkovic’s corner finding him in space, but with a chance to pick his spot, he directed his header straight at Roos. In the final seconds of the half, Soares sent a cross-shot beyond the far post as Aberdeen got into the dressing room at 0-0.
HALF-TIME: ABERDEEN 0 PAOK 0
Barron took a boot to the head from Taison in the second minute of the second half, well inside the PAOK penalty area, but the referee waved play on. He did stop play for a Dons free-kick wide on the right a minute later though, Barron’s ball in finding the head of Polvara around the penalty spot, Kotarski having to scramble to push it away to safety.
He wasn’t stopping Miovski on 50 though. McGrath and McKenzie combined down the left, MacKenzie arcing the cross into the six-yard box, where Miovski controlled and then calmly finished to put Aberdeen ahead. Different game now.
PAOK are not a side to panic and within a minute, Konstanelios was weaving his way into space again before snacking a shot over the bar from the edge of the box. Aberdeen were back on the front foot again though, and had PAOK penned in for several minutes without quite being able to carve out a chance. That allowed the visitors to break, Devlin having to produce a terrific saving tackle to dispossess Konstanelios, the constant thorn in the Aberdeen side.
It was a crucial tackle too, for moments later, Aberdeen were on the break and it was 2-0. Barron brought the ball forward before finding Miovski. Thundering forward on his right was Polvara and Miovski threaded a nicely weighted ball into his path. From there, the American midfielder darted into the box before lifting the ball over Kotarski and in.
PAOK responded with a triple substitution on 64 minutes, Samatta, Baba and Ozdoev replacing Soares, Tsingaras and Brandon. Aberdeen did likewise eight minutes later with Hayes, Duk and Leighton Clarkson bringing fresh legs to the battle in place of Polvara, Miovski and Barron. PAOK brought on Despodov for Taison at the same time.
It proved a masterstroke for the visitors, for within seconds, PAOK had one back, the irrepressible Konstantelias accelerating through the middle before rolling the ball into Despodov for a tap in with his first touch of the ball to bring his team right back into the game.
MacKenzie went wriggling into the box on 78 minutes, only to be chopped down by Vieriniha There were strong appeals from the Dons for a penalty, but neither the referee nor VAR got involved.
Roos had to look lively two minutes later to get down to his right to snatch a dangerous looking header from Ozdoev from close range as PAOK gathered themselves for the final assault.
Vierinhia, who should have been the villain by conceding that penalty, was the PAOK hero 84. Lurking at the far side of the Aberdeen box, he collected a cross and then drilled in a shot that hit Hayes and crept inside the post for 2-2.
Kotarski produced an incredible reflex save in the 88th minute, a Clarkson corner producing an outbreak of pinball in the PAOK box, the goalkeeper somehow kicking the ball off the line when it looked as if it had gone past him. A long throw from Jensen followed, the ball headed out to McGrath on the edge of the area, his volley drifting just wide.
There was worse to come for the Dons, Rube i penalised for catching Despodov on the edge of the box. The referee missed it but this time, after a VAR check, a penalty was awarded. Schwab, with the last kick of the game, put the ball into the bottom corner and the game was won.
No added minutes at end of 1st half.
3+3 minutes added at end 2nd half.