NIALL McGinn’s goal in Skopje last week proved to be the decisive moment in a tough tie as Aberdeen moved into the second qualifying round of the Europa League courtesy of that away goal.
Derek McInnes warned in the build up to the second leg that FK Shkendija were difficult opponents and that proved to be an accurate assement of the side from Macedonia.
They were impressive in possesion but lacked the cutting edge to trouble a hard working Dons defence until a tense last few minutes when it took a fabulous save from Danny Ward to confirm their progress.
The on loan Liverpool goal sprawled full length to push away a Besart Ibraimi shot that threatened to pinch the tie for the visitor’s in stoppage time at the end.
Now Aberdeen can look forward to a trip to Croatia next Thursday for the first leg of the second qualifying round against HNK Rijeka, a tie that threatens to be even tougher.
After all, they will come up against opponents who are unbeaten at home in their last 12 European ties against teams the calibre of Lyon, Stuttgart, Real Betis, Standard Liege, Feynoord and the current holders Seville.
That form has been good enough to carry them into the Europa League group stages for the last two seasons but the Dons themselves will be growing in confidence after this latest result.
Add it to the defeat of Groningen in the Netherlands last season followed by creditable displays in defeat against Real Sociedad and they must have a decent chance of progressing further.
Of course the aim is to reach the group stages for the first time since Jimmy Calderwood was in charge eight years ago and the depth of squad McInnes has assembled certainly encourages hope.
For example Mark Reynolds dislocated a shoulder in the first leg and will have surgery today to allieviate the problem which will kkeep last season’s skipper sidelined until October.
Andrew Conisidine moved ot his preferred left centre back position as cover with recent signing Graeme Shinnie at left back allowing Kenny McLean to return to the midfield.
The former St Mirren captain looked sharper than at any point since his move to Pittodrie back in January and capped an impressive first half with a spectacular 30 yard shot that flew narrowly wide.
It was indictative of how the tie in general shaped up during that period that it came in 43 minutes, just after visiting goalkeeper Marko Jovanovski was foced to make his first serious save of the night.
Not that Liverpool’s on loan goalkeeper Danny Ward was any more involved at the other end despite a bright start from a techinically impressive opposition who lacked a cutting edge to go with it.
That was just as well for Aberdeen in a nervy opening when Ibraimi in particular caused problems with some intelligent breaks forward, often leaving opposing players in his wake.
The was best illustrated in five minutes when the Macedonia international eased past three Dons defenders before finding Armed Alimi who should have hit target from the edge of the area.
Instead he slewed a shot well wide and Aberdeen slowly took control in terms of possession while finding it equally difficult to make that count in terms of opportunities created.
That changed as they finally went through the gears in the few minutes before the break sparked by an intrusion from Shinnie, who impressed both in defence and attack.
His pacey and intellegent run down the left was spotted by Jonny Hayes who laid the perfect pass in to the former Caley Thistle captain’s path and his powerful shot was b;locked by Jovanovski.
The goalkeeper made another crucial intervention at the start of the second half after a fine run and cross down the left by McGinn whose goal in the first leg looked more significant with every passing minute.
Particularly when Ward made a meal of a long range Ibraimi fre kick midway through the second half and was relieved to see a team mate reach the loose ball first to hack it clear.
At the other end Aberdeen substitute Peter Pawlett was the width of the crossbar away from a spectacular winner eleven minutes from time with a dipping 30 yard drive that smacked clear off the bar.
Then with the tie still in the balance Blagoja Todorovski was blocked twice when deep in the Aberdeen penalty as he threatened to undo all the home side’s hard work.
Aberdeen: Ward, Shinnie, Considine, Taylor, Logan, Hayes (Robson 79), Jack, Flood (Goodwillie 79), McLean (Pawlett 67), McGinn, Rooney. Subs not used: Brown, Smith, Quinn, Shankland.
FK Shkëndija: Jovanovski, Todorovski, Polozani, Cuculi, Abdula (Kirovski 80), Juffo (Bejtulai 71), Alimi, Demiri, Junior (Vrucina 84), Hasani, Ibraimi. Subs not used: Azizi, Imeri, Huseini, Totre.