The Dons might not be able to qualify from their Conference League group after this draw in Greece, but for the fourth time in a row, they produced a display full of guts, determination and no little quality, and one that shows that Barry Robson’s Aberdeen belong in Europe.
Following the Viaplay Cup semi-final win over Hibs last Saturday, Barry Robson made two changes to his team, Duk and Ryan Duncan replacing Bojan Miovski and Leighton Clarkson, who started from the bench. Rhys Williams, Or Dadia and Findlay Marshall were added to the substitutes.
There were two changes to the PAOK side that played at Pittodrie, Baba and Despodov replacing Soares and Zivkovic.
The Dons made a good start in a hostile atmosphere, a Jamie McGrath flick on almost finding Duk before Nicky Devlin’s cross had too much on it to find an Aberdeen head. Stefan Gartenmann then almost set Duk away with a probing ball over the top.
PAOK gradually began to assert themselves though and on six minutes, Graeme Shinnie had to produce a vital tackle on the dangerous Taison on the edge of the box. Six minutes later, Slobodan Rube i had to find another good block on the edge of the box before two minutes later, the Dons got full value for it by taking an early lead.
Duncan and Devlin combined well down the right hand side to allow Devlin to spear in a cross. Duk controlled with one touch and then, on the turn, he was too strong for Troost-Ekong and made space to drill the opener low into the net.
PAOK responded, Baba crossing into Schwab who flashed the ball over the bar from 20 yards in the 22nd minute. A minute later though, they were level. Taison won the ball halfway into the Dons’ territory and found Despodov. He darted forward before pulling the ball back into Taison’s run forward and he clipped the ball home after getting away from his marker.
The Dons were undaunted though and following some good play down the left Shinnie fired in a dangerous looking cross that deflected off a defender. It could have gone anywhere, but typical of Aberdeen’s luck in this competition so far this season, it looped into the hands of the goalkeeper.
On 28, PAOK were on the attack again, Brandon crossing only for Rubezic to get a block on it, the ball flashing towards goal and thumping back into play off the post. Six minutes later, Vieirinha went into the book with a nasty late foul on McGrath, an incident that could have drawn a different kind of card.
Schwab wasn’t too far away on 37 minutes, hurling himself at a clever cross from Taison but fortunately, he was inches away from getting the finishing touch.
PAOK maintained the pressure as we approached the break, McGrath having to find a fine block from one shot before Kelle Roos then tipped another effort onto the post. Moments later, Jack MacKenzie was called in to make another superb block as PAOK attacked at breakneck speed, with a 4-v-3 advantage. Konstantelias was away but the full-back chased back with him to avert a potential second goal, a great piece of defending. Tsingaras was then booked for hauling back Gartenmann as Aberdeen tried to get upfield after the corner.
HALF-TIME: PAOK 1 ABERDEEN 1
At the start of the second half, PAOK picked up from where they left off, Konstantelias trying his luck from distance in the opening minute, Roos having to get down to his right to paw it behind. From the corner, Despodov found Koulierakis at the back post. He put his shot into the ground and as it bounced up, Roos was able to tip it over.
Konstantelias drifted in another dangerous cross on 54 minutes, but fortunately it was just in front of Brandon and made its way through to Roos. Moments later, Koulierakis needed treatment after a clash of heads with Rubezic.
There was a VAR check for a penalty on 59 minutes after Konstantelias went sprawling in the box, but given the PAOK man himself hadn’t appealed it was no surprise when nothing was given. On the hour, Dante Polvara and Jonny Hayes replaced Duncan and Shinnie.
Within a minute, Hayes was in the book for a foul on Taison out on the touchline as the two stretched for the ball. Despodov’s free-kick flew to the back post, where Troost-Ekong should have had a tap in but missed the ball altogether. PAOK then replaced Brandon and Tsingaras heading off, Samatta and Ozdoev coming on.
Another free-kick wide on the PAOK left saw Despodov going for goal, Roos clawing the ball away from under the bar in the 67th minute. But the second goal did come seconds later. The hosts recycled a cleared corner back into Troost-Ekong who headed back across goal, Samatta getting up to glance a header just inside the post.
No matter. Give the ball to Jamie McGrath at a free-kick 35 yards out and it’ll soon be 2-2. A perfectly struck set piece from the midfielder flew over the wall, swerved away from the goalkeeper and nestled into the bottom corner – what a goal!
Back came the Greeks, the constant threat of Konstantelias attacking again, his shot from the edge of the box deflected over the bar from Polvara on 73. A minute later, Koulierakis threw himself to the ground to try to earn a penalty when there was clear daylight between him and McGrath. The referee pointed to the spot before VAR started to check the decision. He was called over to the monitor and, quite rightly, overruled his decision. Koulierakis was not yellow carded for simulation and making the referee look foolish.
Schwab was then given a glorious chance on 78, a cross sailing over Rubezic to give him a free header, but he got his angles wring and bulleted his header miles wide from six yards. Miovski then replaced McGrath as Barry Robson went in search of the winner Aberdeen needed to stay in the competition. PAOK responded in the 82nd minute by bringing on Zivkovic and Kedziora for Vieirinha and Despodov. Baba was replaced three minutes later by Soares. Ester Sokler came on for Duk at the same time.
As PAOK looked for their own winner, Taison unleashed a vicious drive at goal in the 86th minute, Roos punching it away to safety as the ball swerved and dipped from 25 yards out.
A goalmouth stramash from a PAOK corner had hearts in mouths in the 90th minute before Aberdeen were able to clear their lines, the Dons doing everything possible to keep their hosts at bay. In the 92ndminute, Polvara was penalised despite winning the ball on the edge of the area, Taison getting off the floor to fire in a shot, Rubezic blocking his effort behind.
Still the home side poured forward, still the red line was quick to tackle, quick to block, up to win their headers. Such was the PAOK frustration that Koulierakis finally got the booking he deserved for a foul on Polvara. The Dons ended the game on the front foot, deep in PAOK territory as the referee’s whistle went on a result drenched in character and determination.
2 minutes added at end 1st half.
7 minutes added at end 2nd half.