Aberdeen so nearly posted another memorable European victory against a team playing all in white.
They had only ten minutes left to hang on to a lead given to them by Gary Mackay-Steven’s early penalty and secure a famous win. But Sam Vokes, a second half-substitute, seized his chance to equalise from close in as the haar continued to roll in off the North Sea.
Memories of beating Real Madrid in 1983’s European Cup Winners’ Cup final had already been stirred before kick-off by a tribute to Neale Cooper, an Aberdeen legend from that night in Gothenburg and who sadly died earlier this summer.
With the second leg to come next week at Turf Moor, nothing has been confirmed. A place in the Europa League third qualifying round is still all to play for.
Burnley will be delighted with the away goal sourced so late on. Aberdeen, meanwhile, will take succour from knowing they created plenty of chances against such an expensively assembled side. Their performance also provides Scottish football with some self-respect in an era when it is viewed, rightly or wrongly, as such a poor relation to the English game.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes’s options were limited. He pushed on loan Tommie Hoban, signed on the eve of the match from Watford, into the starting XI at left-back and handed 18 year-old Lewis Ferguson, a summer signing from Hamilton Accies, his competitive debut. Sam Cosgrove, a 21 year old striker signed from Carlisle and who has yet to open his account for Aberdeen, started up front.
With Ferguson’s fee still set to be decided by tribunal, the rest of the Aberdeen starting team had been put together for under £100,000. Burnley’s record transfer, £15m man Chris Wood, led the line for the visitors and was virtually anonymous for long spells.
“Premier League, you’re having a laugh,” sang the Aberdeen supporters after they saw their side take an early lead.
Goalkeeper Nick Pope, a member of England’s World Cup squad, was not called upon in Russia and did not have the chance to taste much involvement here. Injured in an aerial collision by a combination of Cosgrove and Ferguson after just 11 minutes, he was eventually replaced by Anders Lindegaard.
The Dane’s first action of note, apart from seeking to put off by Gary Mackay-Steven by complaining about the positioning of the ball on the penalty spot, was to then pick it from the back of the net. Mackay-Steven proved nerveless when converting the award after James Tarkowski was penalised for pushing Cosgrove.
“1-0 to the Sunday League,” mocked the home fans in the direction of the 1900 travelling supporters. Some of these Burnley fans had already expressed annoyance that their return to European competition after a gap of 51 years saw them posted to …Aberdeen.
Their mood cannot have been helped by the sea haar that wrapped Aberdeen and much of the North-east in its cooling grip while the rest of the country baked.
They were in good voice nevertheless before kick-off. But their team seemed strangely listless given the significance of the occasion. Burnley had not featured on this stage since an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup quarter-final tie with Eintracht Frankfurt in 1967. They started confidently enough in terms of keeping possession but they rarely got into a position to hurt Aberdeen.
The hosts were looked more dangerous on the counter attack.
Burnley did suffer an early blow when they were forced to replace Pope. A high, hanging cross from McGinn was attacked by the Aberdeen pair Cosgrove and Ferguson with Pope and James Tarkwoski then left in a heap on the ground. The ‘keeper was helped off while holding his arm and replaced by Lindegaard.
Just three minutes later, before Lindegaard had time to touch the ball, Aberdeen were awarded a dubious penalty. Tarkowski was penalised for barging into Cosgrove as he sought to clear Shay Logan’s cross. The German referee, Daniel Siebert, had apparently taken notes from this summer’s World Cup.
Mackay-Steven did well to keep his composure and send Lindegaard the wrong way.
Burnley were disappointing in an attacking context and had only a Wood blast over the bar and a Johann Berg Gudmundsson shot past the post to show for their efforts. Aberdeen continued to look dangerous on the break and Shinnie should have done better with the drive that he failed to connect with properly.
Burnley could not fail to improve in the second-half. A header from Jack Cork, produced a terrific reaction save from Joe Lewis and Aberdeen were simply glad to clear the rebound after an almighty stramash.
Vokes replaced Hendrick after 67 minutes and here the trouble began for Aberdeen. The striker almost immediately whipped in a hooked effort that just cleared Lewis’ bar.
Aberdeen lost Cosgrove, their target man, to injury. He was replaced by Stevie May after 79 minutes. Again, almost immediately, something of significance happened. Aberdeen failed to clear their lines after Wood flicked on a free-kick. Vokes outmuscled Scott McKenna and sent the ball into the roof of the net from just outside the six-yard box.