Chikhura Sachkhere 1-1 Aberdeen: Cosgrove penalty spares Dons blushes
Cosgrove, pictured, once again showed his ability as a penalty taker (Getty Images: Scott Baxter)

A second-half penalty from Sam Cosgrove helped Aberdeen to a 1-1 draw against Georgian side Chikhura Sachkhere on a difficult evening in Tbilisi in the first leg of their second-round Europa League qualifier.

Despite struggling to create much of the way of clear cut chances which troubled the home side, the Dons know that they are in the ascendency going into the second leg at Pittodrie next week after grabbing a vital away goal.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes knows that progression to the next qualifying stage will set up a tie with Croatian outfit HNK Rijeka, who the Dons previously beat in the Europa League qualifiers at the start of the 2015/16 season.

Story of the match

The visitors made just one change from the win over Finnish side RoPS Rovaniemi last week, with Funso Ojo coming into the midfield to make his debut, replacing teenager Dean Campbell.

In front of just a few hundred fans in the 50,000-capacity Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Aberdeen got off to an encouraging start, with Jon Gallagher firing over from a Shay Logan cross.

Irishman Gallagher then squandered a good opportunity to go clear on goal, when he failed to control an inviting ball over the top.

Both sides began to exchange fouls, and central defender Ash Taylor hobbled off the field with an injury after a collision Revaz Chitishvili, for which the former Tranmere Rovers player was booked.

With no defenders on the bench, Dons boss McInnes was forced to reshuffle his players on the field with experienced midfielder Craig Bryson coming on for his debut following his summer move from Derby County. Andy Considine moved into the heart of the defence in to fill the gap left by Taylor, and Shay Logan moved across to left-back, with Gallagher filling in on the opposite side.

The injury clearly disrupted any momentum the visitors were trying to garner, and debutant Funso Ojo was fortunate to not see red after a wild lunge on Davit Maisashvili.

And it was the recent acquisition from Scunthorpe that handed the Georgians the chance to go in front, when the Belgian midfielder brought down Irakli Lekvtadze inside the area. Manager Derek McInnes was clearly aggrieved by the decision on the touchline, but the penalty was given and Vazha Koripadze stepped up to give his side the lead four minutes before the interval.

The Dons re-emerged for the second half knowing that they would have to come from behind as they did in Finland last week, to ensure that they remained in the tie. McInnes once again shuffled his pack, with Shay Logan going back to his natural role at right-back, and winger Ryan Hedges swapping positions with Jon Gallagher.

Playing in a completely unfamiliar role, the change did not seem to hamper the Welshman Hedges, and his runs forward from left-back began to give the Georgian defence something to think about.

A dangerous burst from the 24-year old into the box almost forced an equaliser, when his left foot effort was almost deflected into his own net by defender Oleg Mamasakhlis, forcing goalkeeper Dino Hamzic to parry.

However, Hedges' was soon exposed defensively when Chikhura hit Aberdeen on the break and Lekvtadze fired a venomous drive that narrowly whistled over the bar.

The Dons began to get their foot on the ball in the final half an hour, and following a good spell of possession, where themselves awarded a penalty when Maisashvili handled inside the box following a run from Hedges.

Sam Cosgrove confidently dispatched the spot-kick to score his third goal in as many games and get his team a priceless away goal in the tie.

But the Dons could not capitalise on their equaliser, and Joe Lewis was called into action late on, tipping a close-range attempt from Mikheil Ergemlidze over the crossbar, after the Georgian striker had tried to go round him in the box.

Aberdeen held on to secure the draw, and despite their poor performance, Derek McInnes will be confident that they can finish the job off at Pittodrie next week

Takeaways from the match

Lack of options defensively

With Ash Taylor now looking likely to join Michael Devlin and Greg Leigh on the injury table, manager McInnes is left with just three recognised defenders going into the return leg against the Georgian side.

The Dons boss must surely be looking to add to that department over the next month, if his team are to avoid being plagued with injuries at the back that have cost them dearly at times over the past two seasons.

Man of the match

Aberdeen were clearly missing that spark in the final third, but winger Ryan Hedges did his best to provide an attacking outlet on the left hand side.

Despite being moved to full back for the second, the Welsh international constantly got forward on the overlap, and it was his break into the area that forced the penalty, after his clever flick in the air was handled by defender Davit Maisashvil.

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