Dons have slender Euro lead after late RoPS strike

Niall McGinn nets Aberdeen's opener in the Europa League first qualifying round first leg against RoPS Rovaniemi
Niall McGinn nets Aberdeen's opener in the Europa League first qualifying round first leg against RoPS Rovaniemi

Aberdeen have a slender lead in their Europa League first qualifying round tie with RoPS Rovaniemi after a 2-1 win at Pittodrie.

The Dons their season with a fine performance, but conceded in the third minute of injury time which means their path through to the second qualifying round and meeting with either CS Fola Esch of Luxembourg or Georgian side Chikhura Sachkhere is far from straightforward.

The Reds head for Lapland for the second leg next Thursday with an advantage which was secured courtesy of goals either side of half-time by Niall McGinn and Sam Cosgrove before sub Tommi Jantti struck with virtually the last kick of the ball in front of 14,377 supporters at Pittodrie.

Pre-match the Dons were boosted by news that manager Derek McInnes and assistant Tony Docherty had signed new contracts to keep them in the Granite City until 2022.

McInnes was unable to field summer signings Craig Bryson and Greg Leigh due to ankle injuries.

Ryan Hedges and Jon Gallagher were the only close season additions to start against RoPS with Ash Taylor, James Wilson and Curtis Main all on the bench.

McGinn started after making a quicker than expected recovery from an ankle ligament injury sustained in April.

The first effort at goal came after only 34 seconds with RoPS midfielder Youness Rahimi firing well wide from long range, while up the other end McGinn lashed well over in the second minute.

Aberdeen were close to breaking the deadlock on 10 minutes when Andy Considine charged up the left flank and delivered a good cross for Cosgrove, who was goal side of the defence, but the striker side-footed just wide from 10 yards.

Three minutes later RoPS keeper Antonio Reguero was tested for the first time.

The former Inverness Caley Thistle and Ross County goalie dived full stretch to his right to tip away Hedges’ curling left foot shot from the edge of the area.

In was almost all Aberdeen in the opening quarter but they were given a fright in the 23rd minute when Atte Sihvonen rolled the ball into Aleksandr Kokko and his curling effort from 12 yards was deflected over for a fruitless corner by Lewis Ferguson.

Soon after Eetu Muinonen hit the ground in the Reds’ box and was appealing for a penalty, but Swedish referee Kaspar Sjoberg was unmoved by the claims.

The Dons regained the impetus after the half hour with Considine’s low drive held by Reguero then Juho Hyvarinen’s back post clearance stopped the left-back turning in a Shay Logan cross from the right that Gallagher had flicked on.

From the resultant McGinn corner in the 34th minute Cosgrove headed back across goal, but Scott McKenna couldn’t turn it in.

However, Aberdeen only had to wait two minutes more for the breakthrough.

Hedges’ low cross from the left wing was collected by McGinn at the front post, the Northern Irishman neatly flicked the ball past Kalle Katz with his right foot and as the angle became more acute McGinn deftly lifted a shot over Reguero and into the net.

In the 39th minute it was nearly 2-0 when McGinn got to the byline on the left and Cosgrove met his deep cross with a powerful looping header which was tipped over the bar by Reguero.

On the stroke of half-time the visiting goalie was again called into action, plunging to his left to hold a 30-yard piledriver from Ferguson.

Just three minutes into the second period the Dons doubled their lead when Gallagher squeezed in a cross from wide on the left and Cosgrove slid in at the front post to turn the ball home from close range.

Gallagher was lively throughout, but particularly in a 15 minute period after half-time.

On 55 minutes he burst down the left and laid the ball infield for McGinn, but his poked shot was smothered by Reguero.

Three minutes later Hedges again tested Reguero with a low strike from 25 yards, but the experienced goalie was up to the task.

Up the other RoPS sub Tarik Kada showed intent with his second touch as he drilled a low shot in at Joe Lewis from the right side of the penalty area, but the Dons’ new skipper blocked the effort at the near post.

On 63 minutes Cosgrove was unfortunate to by denied another goal as Reguero produced a stunning save to parry his first time strike from 12 yards after latching on to a McKenna cutback from the left flank.

The Aberdeen pressure continued with sub Dean Campbell having an effort clawed off the goal-line by Reguero from a McGinn free-kick and Cosgrove was unable to force the rebound home.

Cosgrove had another opportunity from a McGinn free-kick in the 74th minute, but the Englishman’s looping header dropped just over.

Summer signing James Wilson made his return to Pittodrie off the bench in place of Niall McGinn with eight minutes left and in the last minute of normal time Reguero again thwarted Cosgrove, beating away his angled drive following a swift Aberdeen counter-attack.

But in the final attack RoPS struck when Lucas Lingman’s through ball found Jantti, who beat the Aberdeen offside trap and finished neatly.

Aberdeen: Joe Lewis, Shay Logan, Mikey Devlin, Scott McKenna, Andy Considine, Jon Gallagher, Lewis Ferguson, Ryan Hedges (Dean Campbell 61), Scott Wright (Connor McLennan 73), Niall McGinn (James Wilson 82), Sam Cosgrove.

Subs not used: Tomas Cerny, Curtis Main, Ash Taylor, Stevie May.

RoPS Rovaniemi: Antonio Reguero, Taye Taiwo, Kalle Karz, Atte Sihvonen, Youness Rahimi, Sergio Llamas Pardo (Tommi Jantti 76), Lucas Lingman, Aleksandr, Kokko (Niklas Jokelainen 65), Eetu Muinonen (Tarik Kada 57), Juho Hyvarinen, Mahamadou Sissoko.

Subs not used: Damjan Shishkovski, Henrik Olander, Matias Tamminen, Agnaldo.