Less than a quarter into their third qualifying round first leg tie yesterday, it looked as though Aberdeen’s Europa League adventure was going to be all over in the heat of Kazakhstan.
Two goals down and with Kairat’s confidence high, there was a fear that the Dons would be blown away before the second leg in a weeks time.
However, this is an Aberdeen team made of sterner stuff these days and Kenny McLean’s goal on 69 minutes gives them a far greater chance to turn the tie around at Pittodrie next Thursday.
Even though they ultimately lost the first leg, that away goal could prove so crucial and, given the bad start, Derek McInnes will be content at the 2-1 scoreline that sets things up for a cracking second leg.
Despite the impressive victory over highly-rated Croatians HNK Rijeka in the previous round, this was always going to be a tough examination for the Dons against a team midway through their domestic season, top of the Kazakhstan league and boasting the qualities of former Bayern Munich midfielder Antoly Tymoshchuk among their ranks.
Naturally, McInnes fielded the same starting eleven that won in Croatia but this time it didn’t work as the hosts cut through the defence for the first before skipper Khan blasted an unstoppable 30 yarder for the second.
Knowing that the system wasn’t working, Aberdeen brought on Adam Rooney for Peter Pawlett then McLean for David Goodwillie and it paid off when the former St Mirren man lashed home to give the Dons that vital lifeline.
After an unconvincing start to his Pittodrie career, McLean now has two goals in consecutive away matches, showing the qualities that enticed Derek McInnes to bring him to the North East and he’ll be vital to Aberdeen’s chances of progression.
There is no doubt that Aberdeen are capable of turning the tie around. In McLean, Rooney, Goodwillie, McGinn, Hayes and Pawlett, they have a goal threat and the biggest dilemma for McInnes is which two get left out of the starting line up.
What the Dons must be careful of at Pittodrie is not going too gung-ho early on. Yes they are trailing but the last thing they want to do is concede another early goal that would leave them chasing two for extra time.
The normally reliable defence were shaky in Kazakhstan last night so they will need to improve in order to keep the visitors at bay and keep Aberdeen in the tie.
With the tie so delicately poised, it should entice a decent crowd to the second leg and Aberdeen fans are starting a Twitter trend #selloutpittodrie to spread the word and encourage more home fans to Pittodrie.
I’d already ordered my ticket so it was a relief when Kenny McLean scored, otherwise I was committed to a tie that was potentially over.
Aberdeen coped well, after a sticky start, in Kazakhstan so it will be interesting to see how Kairat cope with the long journey to Scotland.
Here’s hoping they struggle and that Aberdeen can progress to the playoff round and have a shot of the Europa League a Group stages.