VAR hell for Aberdeen in remarkable PAOK comeback as raging Barry Robson gives referee 'kicked door' clue
Having weathered heavy pressure in a goalless first half, Barry Robson’s men found themselves two goals to the good by the hour mark thanks to Bojan Miovski and Dante Polvara. But a stunning comeback saw the Greek side take three points after goals from substitutes Kiril Despodov and captain Vieirinha, and a stoppage-time penalty, awarded after a VAR check, from Stefan Schwab.
Aberdeen's pain was exacerbated by the decision not to review a potential penalty of their own by VAR when Jack MacKenzie appeared to be tripped by Vieirinha when the Dons were 2-1 up. As a result, they are joint-bottom of the group on one point ahead of a return trip to Thessaloniki in two weeks time.
The Dons started brightly and after nine minutes, a free-kick earned by Graeme Shinnie 25 yards out gave Connor Barron the chance to fire towards goal, but his effort was over the crossbar. That seemed to awaken the visitors, who had eased their way into the game. A moment of brilliance from Ioannis Konstantelias saw the forward dance through the Dons defence before rolling a low shot off the base of the left-hand post.
The Dons were getting some joy on the left though, and Jamie McGrath’s industry saw him win the ball high up before being unceremoniously dumped by Schwab who picked up a yellow card for his troubles. As time elapsed, the away side started to find openings, and a counter led by Konstantelias saw Kelle Roos come off his line to block the striker’s attempted chip. The Dutch keeper was again well-placed just two minutes later to hold Schwab’s back-post header from a corner as the Dons held out for the half-time whistle.
But the home side came out all guns blazing after the break, with Barron claiming for a penalty after a kick to the head almost straight after the restart. The same man then swung in a free-kick that was headed by Polvara, forcing Dominik Kotarski into a first save of the game.
And two minutes later, the Dons were in front. Again, it came from the left with McGrath and Jack MacKenzie exchanging passes before the latter drilled in a low cross which Miovski was able to swivel on before placing low into the bottom-left corner.
Soon after, it was two. Barron picked up the ball in his own half and drove forward, finding Miovski who in turn released Polvara one-on-one with the keeper. The American kept his cool and dinked beyond Kotarski to send the Red Shed behind the goal into ecstasy.
The Greek side, however, pulled a goal back after 74 minutes, and it was an easy finish for substitute Despodov who stroked home with his first touch after being played in by Konstantelias, who took full advantage of Richard Jensen’s untimely slip.
Then the Dons had their penalty claim almost instantly as MacKenzie took a tumble in the box, but there was no award forthcoming. “They got it wrong – again,” said manager Barry Robson. “It’s not even hard to get right. I don’t know why it’s not been checked. I know the referee has come in and kicked his own door on the way in so I don’t know if that’s any indication that he thinks he’s made a mistake. But it’s cost us tonight – it’s blatant.”
The visitors took full advantage to draw level as Jonny Hayes’ clearing header proved wayward, falling for Vieirinha to smash an angled drive past a helpless Roos, with the aid of a deflection.
Aberdeen suddenly sprung back to life with chances for Jensen and McGrath late in the game and looked like holding on for a point before a late VAR award against Slobodan Rubezic allowed Schwab to complete the comeback.
"We’re gutted,” said goalscorer Polvara afterwards. “We stuck to the gameplan and took our opportunities. I couldn’t watch at the end. It hurts.”