Derek McInnes praised the fighting spirit and determination of his Aberdeen players which the manager believes will eventually see them through to the fourth round of Europa League qualifying.
That assertion might have lacked conviction had Milivoje Novakovic’s goal seven minutes from the end proved to be the only one of the night but the Dons are made of sterner stuff nowadays. They have made a habit of scoring late goals in the competition this season and rescued the draw that was the least their efforts merited when Jonny Hayes levelled with two minutes left.
Ash Taylor was a key figure in the build-up after making the mistake that let Maribor in for a goal that means they remain unbeaten in Scotland after positive results against Celtic, Rangers and Hibernian in the recent past.
However, given the problems Aberdeen caused the Slovenians, McInnes is confident they have the skill and mental toughness to complete the job in the away leg next week. “I’m delighted with the response of the players because it was a sore one to go behind because we’d been the better team” said the Aberdeen manager
“We were on the front foot and asked questions of Maribor, we got the ball into the box and caused them concern. They had one chance in open play and took it – that shows the quality they have.
“We are a bit annoyed with the goal but I’m more interested in the response. We have scored a lot of late goals and that sort of attitude takes you a long way. We never know we’re beaten, it could have been easy to write that off in the last five minutes but we didn’t, the team spirit and never-say-die attitude is a magnificent thing to have.
“There’s no doubt Maribor are in a stronger position but we can score over there. I have no doubt we can still win this tie, it’s still alive for us. We scored in Groningen and against Rijeka, so we can do it.
“We caused Maribor a lot of problems, took the game to them, rattled them and should have made more of the chances. The game is still alive, we know we can get to them – and they know we can get to them.
“We might not have as much of the ball as we did tonight but I believe we can score.
“The scoreline will make them play the same way next week, they are compact and they will remember what they faced tonight. We took advantage of the way they defend deep tonight so I wouldn’t expect them to be too different.”
Maribor’s coach Darko Milanic certainly seemed to agree with that assessment when he admitted afterwards that his side are far from certain to progress in what is shaping up to be a cracking second leg.
“I don’t accept we are favourites now, it’s going to be very difficult against Aberdeen in the next game,” he said.
“It was a tough match so I have to congratulate my team for the fight we showed on the pitch. It will be another difficult match in Slovenia next week.”