Qarabag 1-0 Aberdeen: Stephen Glass' men still in the tie after spirited second-half showing

Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass. Picture: SNSAberdeen manager Stephen Glass. Picture: SNS
Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass. Picture: SNS
Aberdeen will fancy their chances of progressing to the group stages of the inaugural Europa Conference League despite losing 1-0 to Qarabag in Baku.

In the first leg of this play-off tie, the away team were up against the stifling heat, a pitch that was barely fit for purpose and a referee who could be described as worse.

Slovenian official Rade Obrenovic somehow took until the 63rd minute to produce a yellow card for the hosts despite several overly robust challenges.

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Even still, Aberdeen will be disappointed with a first-half performance in which they barely got going and conceded the only goal of the evening.

Manager Stephen Glass made six changes to the side who exited the Premier Sports Cup at the last 16 stage on Sunday with a 2-1 defeat to Raith Rovers as the likes of captain Scott Brown, talismanic midfielder Lewis Ferguson and leading scorer Christian Ramirez came back into the side.

Instead of the 4-4-2 which Glass has largely preferred so far, the Aberdeen manager shaped his team into a 3-5-2 formation with youngsters Calvin Ramsay and Jack McKenzie providing the width.

The latter had to move into the back three within the first 15 minutes after Andrew Considine suffered a worrisome knee injury after getting his foot caught in the turf following a shoulder charge from Jaime Romero. Jonny Hayes took his place.

The reshuffle perhaps contributed to Aberdeen going behind on 30 minutes. With McKenzie tucking in, Hayes was left in a two-on-one situation on the corner of the box. This allowed Romero to cut inside, fire through the legs of his marker and beat Joe Lewis with a well-drilled shot into the first post.

There were hardly any positives to the visitors’ first-half play. Although, aside from the goal and an early Lewis save, Qarabag found the away defence a tricky proposition to break through.

It was no surprise to see Jay Emmanuel-Thomas remain inside at the half-time break. The towering attacker has impressed in a second-striker role since joining from Livingston, but he struggled badly to keep the ball in the first 45. He was replaced by Connor McLennan.

The change gave them a little more pep in their step as they began to press and harry Qarabag higher up the park. Yet chances were still very much at a premium at both ends.

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There was one excellent opportunity with five minutes remaining which Aberdeen will hope they won’t rue come next Thursday. It arrived for the ideal man in Ramirez, but he couldn’t replicate his recent form in front of goal after latching on to a direct ball from Ross McCrorie, limply hitting his shot into the arms of the Shahrudin Mahammadaliyev from just inside the area.

There was almost a hammer blow in injury-time when Ojo cheaply conceded possession in his own half. Marko Vešović was able to charge at Ramsay, turning the full-back inside out, but couldn’t make it beyond the massive frame of Lewis who sprinted from his line to narrow the angle.

A final opportunity was presented in the sixth minute of time added on when Ramirez won a free-kick 25 yards from goal. Ferguson got it up and over the wall but couldn’t trouble the goalkeeper, who held comfortably as the full-time whistle blew.

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