A pulsating game played out in a blizzard that required the use of a snow plough to clear the lines in the second half saw the Dons fight back from two goals down to earn a draw, inspired by a goal of the season cracker from Angus MacDonald.
For this game in a freezing cold, snow-swept Helsinki, Barry Robson made seven changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Rangers last Sunday with Nicky Devlin, Stefan Gartenmann, Graeme Shinnie, Leighton Clarkson, Jamie McGrath, Ester Sokler and Bojan Miovski all on the bench. Into the side came Jonny Hayes as skipper, Connor Barron, Duk, Dante Polvara and Angus MacDonald, with Pape Guèye and Jack Milne making their first starts for the club. Or Dadia, Rhys Williams and Findlay Marshall were also among the subs.
After losing 1-0 at home to Eintracht Frankfurt in their last fixture 21 days ago, Finnish champions HJK made one change, Tuomas Ollila dropping to the bench in place of Bojan Radulovic. Lingman’s selection means he has played against the Dons on both of their visits to Finland, having played for ROPS.
The game kicked off with plenty of snow swirling around the Bolt Arena, evidence of it on the artificial surface that had been swept before kick-off. Milne was in impressive action in the third minute, bursting down the right before crossing, the ball finding Guèye whose shot from eight yards was blocked away to safety. At the other end, Hostikka wasn’t far away with a shot from the edge of the box, trying to shape it into the bottom corner but the ball drifted just wide.
A lovely one touch move from the hosts opened Aberdeen up on 12 minutes, the HJK players looking much more comfortable as they skipped over the icy surface, Kelle Roos having to make a good low save from Keskinen after he played a clever give and go around the top of the box.
HJK were creating real momentum, two shots reigning in in quick succession a minute later, Roos making a good save before MacDonald was able to block the final one over the bar.
It was 1-0 on 16, Bandé turning beautifully to take himself away from Slobodan Rube i ’s lunging challenge before advancing on goal and thumping his finish into the roof of the net.
Radulovic was close to a second on 19 minutes, a glancing near post header looking dangerous until it took a deflection off MacDonald. From the corner, Hostikka was given too much time to stab a shot goalwards from just inside the box but fortunately it clipped the bar on its way over.
From there, Aberdeen looked to have settled back into the game, as the snow continued to fall in lumps. Barron put a dangerous looking free-kick into the box on 29, but there were no takers for it in a red shirt and it flew through to the goalkeeper.
A second did come for the home side in the 33rd minute though. Hostikka was able to get himself between Polvara and Barron, then around an off balance Richard Jensen with some neat footwork before placing a precise shot across the face of goal and in. In truth, by now it was harder to see the lines on the pitch than to argue with the scoreline.
But the Dons were right back into things when, on 41 minutes, MacDonald intercepted a clearance and saw the ball sit up nicely for him some 35 yards out. With an absolute sledgehammer of a shot, he flashed the ball into the top corner of the net, an incredible strike – HJK would have needed two goalkeepers to stop that one. Even the snow was impressed and promptly stopped for a few minutes.
Aberdeen were a team reborn and in the final seconds, a Rube i tackle put them on the attack again, Guèye feeding Duk whose shot was straight at Mäenpää.
HALF-TIME: HJK HELSINKI 2 ABERDEEN 1
The HJK groundstaff were busy clearing the snow off the pitch through the interval and as the teams came back at, the pitch markings were visible once again. Ester Sokler and Jamie McGarry were introduced at the break, Duncan and Guèye making way.
It was a sharper looking Aberdeen in the opening minutes of the second half, nipping away at HJK and putting them under far more pressure than for the first 40 minutes of the game and making life a bit more difficult. The game was stopped briefly on 52 minutes with the HJK goalkeeper being pelted with snowballs, Hayes and Duk both appealing to the crowd to stop after a formal warning had been issued over the tannoy.
A golden chance for an equaliser went begging on 56, Sokler charging down a clearance and chasing into the box before pulling the ball back for Duk, whose shot was turned behind. No matter, from Barron’s corner, Jensen got a flick on at the near post and as the ball flew across goal, Duk was there at the back post to turn the ball just inside the post – all square.
All Aberdeen now. Milne galloped away down the right and slung in a great cross that reached Sokler at the far post. Opening his body up to shoot, he forced Mäenpää into a good save from a tight angle.
Radulovic got in behind the Dons defence on 64 and forced a great save from Roos, MacDonald making a brave block to deny him on the rebound, only for the striker to be given offside anyway. HJK made a triple change on 68, Hetemaj, Raitala and Ollila replacing Kanellopoulos, Bandé and Hostikka.
Hetemaj should have made it 3-2 in the 73rd minute, Radulovic pulling the ball back for him and with the goal gaping, he got under his effort and from six yards out, scooped the ball over the bar. Moments later, the referee took the players off the pitch so that the groundstaff could start clearing the pitch of snow once again.
Some community singing of ‘Jingle Bells’ wiled away the time as the little green snowplough chugged up and down the Bolt Arena – and if that’s not a children’s book in the making, it should be. Some of the hardier locals were cavorting with tops off before play, thankfully, restarted. Nicky Devlin and Bojan Miovski came on for the Dons, Duk and Milne making way, while HJK traded Halme for Olusanya.
Olusanya should have had his side in front almost immediately, Roos again saving superbly with his feet after good work by Lingman and Keskinen to set up the substitute.
Polvara took a whack in the face in a tussle with Tenho on 78 minutes, the Dons getting a free-kick 30 yards out. McGrath got it over the wall, Mäenpää down well to turn the ball away. McGrath was close again a couple of minutes later, Devlin breaking down the right to feed him, his shot deflected over the bar.
Proof that both sides were still wholly committed came in the 86th minute when a challenge between Devlin and Keskinen boiled over into a pushing and shoving match, both getting booked as the snow continued to bucket down.
Aberdeen had the chance to win it on the counter as the game went into added time, Sokler collecting a ball forward and then finding Miovski, but his low shot was well saved by the goalkeeper, honours ending even.
1 minute added at end of 1st half.
2nd half paused at 74 minutes for snow clearance resumed after 10 minutes.
6 minutes added at end 2nd half.