Aberdeen 1-1 Maribor: Hayes rescues Dons with late leveller

Jonny Hayes caps a thrilling first leg against Europa League opponents Maribor by scoring  a late equaliser for Aberdeen. Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire.

Jonny Hayes caps a thrilling first leg against Europa League opponents Maribor by scoring a late equaliser for Aberdeen. Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire.

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It was another late, late show by Aberdeen as a Jonny Hayes goal two minutes from the end salvaged a draw that was the least Derek McInnes’ side deserved after a pulsating first-leg tie at Pittodrie.

The Dons have now scored all eight of their goals in the Europa League qualifiers in the last 22 minutes of their ties and the Irishman’s adroit finish made sure some sort of justice was done.

Their response came just minutes after the sort of sucker punch goal that has afflicted Scottish teams all too often down the years, but this Aberdeen side are made of sterner stuff nowadays.

They refused to accept the situation and Ash Taylor, culpable in conceding Milivoje Novakovic’s goal, redeemed himself with a crucial role in setting up Hayes for his adroit and vital finish.

It will be a tough test in the second leg next week but McInnes can take encouragement from the number of problems they caused their opponents and a place in the final round of qualification is still a distinct possibility.

Maribor renewed hostilities with Celtic recently in a draw over in Slovenia that was much more physical than the normal pre-season friendly, much to the delight of the Maribor coach, Darko Milanic, especially considering their subsequent Europa League pairing.

He promised much the same against Aberdeen, noting just how strong and fit their opponents had proved with all seven of their previous goals in the competition coming in the last 22 minutes of the ties.

Of course Milanic did have a very brief spell in British football, 32 days in fact, as that is how long he lasted as Leeds United manager a couple of years ago, which was shorter than even Brian Clough’s infamous time there as Don Revie’s replacement in the 1970s.

It was a successful first spell in charge of Maribor that earned that opportunity, landing four league titles and establishing an impressive record in continental competition, but McInnes relished challenging his more experienced counterpart.

He certainly pulled off a pre-match surprise, dropping Kenny McLean to the bench with Jayden Stockley starting to add a strong presence up front in a switch from the Dons’ usual formation to give the prolific Adam Rooney more direct support.

It was a ploy that very nearly brought an instant pay-off as Stockley’s power and ability in the air saw him, Niall McGinn and Rooney have chances in the first few furious minutes of the match.

Maribor steadied themselves and the riposte was impressive in terms of passing and technique as they knocked the ball around neatly and created a chance for captain Marcos Tavare which Taylor was relieved to block.

Not as relieved as Jasmin Handanovic, though, when Rooney of all people failed to fully exploit a Dare Vrsic mistake as the Irishman couldn’t take advantage with a shot that the goalkeeper was happy to grab at the second attempt.

Aberdeen certainly made it a fraught time for Handanovic who had to block bravely at Rooney’s feet then watch as the same player was inches away from connecting with a sweeping Andrew Considine cross.

Maribor looked very ordinary when the Dons pushed forward with pace and incision down the flanks, although the visitors did squander a clear-cut chance of their own when Israeli midfielder Marwan Kabha scooped the ball over the bar from 12 yards.

They were much more impressive when they got some room to play going forward, with Tavares in particular looking composed in possession and accurate when using the ball, but too few team-mates were on the same wavelength.

That’s not something you could level against Aberdeen as the only real surprise was that they turned around at the interval without the reward of a goal for the effort they put into an impressive first 45 minutes.

Handanovic excelled again to divert another Stockley header over the bar, then the same player steered another one just off target following a sweet McGinn cross from the resulting corner kick.

Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis was finally called into direct action two minutes after the restart, moving sharply to his left to push Dare Vrsic’s acutely angled drive round the post but that was a rare moment of anxiety.

The home side continued to dominate, with Stockley testing Handanovic again while Jonny Hayes flashed a wonderful drive from the left edge of the penalty area inches wide of the right-hand post.

There then followed a partial power failure off the pitch but not on it as far as Aberdeen’s intensity was concerned with half chances aplenty, but it was another clear-cut opportunity that they really craved.

When it did materialise, Rooney’s accomplished finish was in vain as he was in an offside position. But even after going behind they kept going and Hayes scored the latest in their late, late goals in the competition with a great finish.

Taylor would be very relieved as he made a crucial contribution to the leveller after being caught out as Novakovic brushed him off to open the scoring with just a few minutes to go but that wasn’t the end of the drama.

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