Aberdeen disarm Viking to set up Sporting Lisbon clash
In the same way that a starter can be appetising but rarely satisfies real hunger pangs, this match was always viewed as little more than a tasty preamble.
Since the draw for the second and third qualifying rounds was made, the mouthwatering prospect for everyone at Aberdeen has been the opportunity this trip afforded them of a prestigious meeting with Sporting Lisbon.
Manager Derek McInnes admitted there had been no attempt to pretend otherwise, happy for his players to have such a prize to entice them
If a trip to Portugal next week had already been pencilled in the diary, last night’s result in Stavanger allows them to firm up those plans.
Ryan Hedges was the man who grabbed the headlines and a hat-trick in the previous round and he was the player who offered the Dons some breathing space at the SR-Bank Arena thanks to his 78th minute corner kick that left Viking keeper Arild Austbo looking a wee bit daft as the set piece was whipped in and tucked inside the far post.
That made it 2-0, building on Ross McCrorie’s earlier volley.
McCrorie’s dig had been a welcome climax to the first half, which the Scottish side had enjoyed the better of but they had, until that point, proved unable to capitalise on.
They had been forced to weather a mini Viking revival as the break approached but when a corner was cleared as far as the in-form midfielder he sent a rasping right foot effort into the net.
There was an anxious pause as the assistant referee raised the question of Andrew Considine’s positioning in front of the home keeper but the referee decided not to give offside, allowing the goal to stand and grant the visitors a merited lead.
Aberdeen had travelled to Norway in buoyant mood, looking for their sixth win on the bounce, but against a side already well-bedded in to their season, the challenge was always likely to be greater than the test posed by Runavik in the previous round.
A reminder of that was served up in the opening minute when Viking carved out an opening but Kosovan forward Zymer Bytyqi pulled his shot just wide.
After that initial fright, it was Aberdeen who had the better of the first half but the clinical finish was missing. That lack of a clinical edge was disappointing as they set the tempo and dictated the majority of play for the first half an hour but couldn’t turn that into the kind of advantage that matters.
With Matty Kennedy dropping out of the squad, McCrorie was pushed out the right wing, with Dylan McGeouch coming in to make up the numbers in the middle of the park.
Working their way down the flanks, Jonny Hayes made inroads down the left, while McCrorie was a threat surging forward on the opposite wing. Driving Aberdeen forward they helped set a high tempo but there was less conviction when the Dons found themselves through on goal.
Hayes, Marley Watkins, Ryan Hedges and Scott Wright all had chances to punish the hosts but Bjarne Bernstein’s men were brave in getting bodies in the way to block, while the Pittodrie players needed to find the angle of a bit more power, as strikes were too central or too weak to truly trouble the Norwegians.
Watkins managed to get a header on target in the seventh minute but it was saved and Scott Wright should have done better when he was played in by a delightful Hedges through ball but he couldn’t beat the keeper.
Aberdeen’s inability to convert their superiority gave the Stavanger side hope and they rallied and came close when Veton Berisha set up Ylldren Ibrahimaj twice.
Hedges, McGeouch, Lewis Ferguson and Watkins all responded with attempts but it was only when McCrorie netted in the 43rd minute that they were able to finally celebrate.
Willing to commit players forward as they chased the game, Viking started the second half as brightly as they first but the attacking options enjoyed by Aberdeen and their willingness to graft and press the game limited the home side to near misses or teasing tries and they never managed to breach the away defence.
With just a solitary goal separating them, there may have been an edgy end to the game but Hedges stepped up. And as his corner ruffled the inside of the netting there will have been signs of relief on the Aberdeen bench and as soon as the final whistle sounded, thoughts will have turned to next week and the highly-anticipated head to head against Sporting Lisbon in Portugal.
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