Aberdeen narrowly lost an attritional battle in Baku against Qarabag, but their Europa Conference hopes remain alive.
The Dons have recorded just two tame shots on target as Jaime Romero’s first-half strike gave the hosts an advantage in the first leg ahead of next week’s return to Pittodria.
Stephen Glass also watched Andrew Considine carried away on a stretcher as he suffered from what looked like a potentially serious injury.
A ghastly surface at Tofiq Bahramov adına Respublika Stadionu was well documented ahead of the game and could well have been a factor in the veteran defender’s collapse in the opening minutes.
It was most certainly a factor in the often turgid football featured on both sides.
A place in the inaugural group stage awaits next week’s winner and it will take a lot better in front of the Red Army for the Dons to take their place in the tournament proper.
Their hosts weren’t much better, in fairness, and their lead is slim with at least 90 minutes to go.
But they were at no time seriously troubled by the Premiership squad on what has been a disappointing evening for Glass and his players, although there is still everything to play in a week’s time.
He called the game the biggest in the club’s last 15 years, but even if they do win next week, that first leg will likely be overlooked in any future nostalgia package.
The inclusion of JET and Christian Ramirez in the offense gave the Dons two targets to hit, but their combined presence made little difference as the visitors worked hard to maintain meaningful possession from the start.
A rambling period of openness was then cut short as Considine fell into genuine distress after a seemingly innocuous rally in the middle of the park.
The defender gripped his knee in anguish and it quickly became clear his evening was over when Captain Scott Brown motioned for a stretcher.
Qarabag’s horrific pitch was the subject of much anger ahead of the game, and will continue to see how Considine appeared to twist his knee on the cut-out area.
Jonny Hayes replaced him but Aberdeen continued to work hard to find his way into the game.
A midfield trio of Brown, Lewis Ferguson and Funso Ojo have seen very little of the ball and failure to hold it so often leads to problems in continental competition.
The hosts were by no means dotting the Dons goal, but the continued invitations to attack were ultimately accepted by Jaime Romero.
The Spaniard measured Hayes down the right flank and used a lure from his full-back to cut in and pierce past Joe Lewis at his closest post.
Glass introduced Connor MacLennan for the second period, but it proved to be an interrupted reboot as Qarabag took an all-agricultural approach to give the Dons a succession of free kicks.
As in the first half, however, their set pieces were as poor as their open play.
They were at least gaining territory over their hosts, but the hour of play came and went without Qarabag’s keeper Shakhruddin Magomedaliyev being disturbed in any way.
MacLennan’s introduction helped Aberdeen get on the pitch, but sadly not to the extent that they could seriously threaten to restore parity.
Ramirez took advantage of his only opportunity of the night with a failed strike and in the end Aberdeen had to fend off a late push from Qarabag.
Only a great save from Lewis prevented a second and kept this very important second leg on a razor’s edge.
3 talking points
Fears for Considin
The defender collapsed to the ground hugging his knee at first and it was clear from the angst on his face that something was wrong.
Gravity updates will surely follow, but the need for a stretcher to help the 34-year-old from the field was particularly alarming.
Much had been said about the deplorable state of the pitch in Baku and Considin appeared to have his cleats lodged in the grass as he battled for the ball.
He has been almost ubiquitous since Glass took over and an extended absence would be a blow to both the club and the player, on a night he became the club’s fourth-biggest European appearances holder of all time.
Donations fail to start
It was the archetypal “hard place to come” for Aberdeen – stifling conditions, horrific ground and an opponent who has been around this particular block on several occasions in recent years.
Circumstances difficult to deal with, of course, but so many of their mistakes were of the doubly frustrating and unforced variety.
Particularly in the opening 45 minutes, Aberdeen tried to string together even the most modest passing streaks and ultimately paid off with Romero’s well-scored goal.
Glass’s side improved after the break but not enough to find a way to get past Magomedaliyev and, in the end, Qarabag seemed largely content to settle for 1-0.
Tie still alive
Yes, it was a bad night for Aberdeen but they should come out too discouraged.
They have by no means been outclassed by Qarabag and will be convinced that they will pose a lot more problems for their opponents in a week in Pittodria.
The bad surface undoubtedly played a part in how the game went and a smoother surface in their own backyard will allow Aberdeen to express themselves more.
Romero’s goal proved decisive on the night but, otherwise, Glass’s side did well against a side with, in relative terms, a much larger European pedigree.
The Dons have made sure their home patch has rocked each of the previous rounds and everything is set for another memorable night in the Northeast.