Aberdeen have been narrowly eliminated from this season’s Europa League, losing out 1-0 to Portuguese outfit Sporting Lisbon away from home in a third round qualifier.
Derek McInnes’ side were hit with an early blow as Tiago Tomas put Sporting ahead inside eight minutes. The Dons were well in this throughout the entire match, eventually edged out by their technically classy hosts.
The buildup to this one was dominated by Sporting Lisbon’s COVID-19 issues. They were set to miss nine players, although a strong squad meant that Aberdeen’s task wasn’t going to be any easier.
That was proven after eight minutes. 18-year-old Tomas put the Portuguese side ahead, getting played through on goal and calmly slotting past Joe Lewis. The Dons were given a glimpse of the deadly nature of this Sporting side very early in the game.
But to their credit, this didn’t dishearten the Dons. They had chances to level the scoring, Dylan McGeouch in particular going close. Sporting had chances too right enough, Lewis forced into a good stop before the 40-minute mark.
Whilst underdogs in this tie, Aberdeen were far from out the game as the second 45 begun. It didn’t quite have the same intensity as the first half during the opening stages but Tomas had a great chance to put this beyond the Dons.
He was given a free header in so much space from around six yards out, but somehow managed to put it off target before the hour mark. It was a let-off for McInnes as Sporting were beginning to hem Aberdeen in their own half.
His team just needed to get a touch of the ball that was alluding them as risks needed to be taken in the final third. Striker Ryan Edmondson was drafted on as Aberdeen looked for a moment of magic in the final 10 minutes.
Ryan Hedges had a massive chance three minutes from time. Scott Wright did so well to win the ball back for his team, the in-form Welshman firing a shot from the edge of the box wide. A big chance for Aberdeen at that stage of the game, it was perhaps their last to stay in the Europa League.
And so it turned out to be, Sporting doing enough to grind out a win over a resilient Aberdeen side. On a night of what could have been for the Dons, they will still be pelased overall with their effort against a very good European side. Here are three things we learned.
Getting McCrorie central
In the wake of Scott McKenna’s exit, Ross McCrorie found himself at centre-back against Motherwell. His usual influence in midfield was missed and it meant the backline was slightly unbalanced in the 3-0 defeat.
But in this one, Shay Logan came in at full-back, allowing McCrorie to come back into midfield. It seemed to work wonders, McCrorie doing well once again in the middle and the defensive unit looking comfortable against top opposition.
Whilst Sporting may have a stronger squad with larger pockets of depth than Aberdeen, the two teams looked very even in Portugal. Aberdeen had the upper-hand in terms of fitness, but when needed, Sporting showed their technical class.
But on the night there was very little to split them. McInnes will be very pleased with the performance, but obviously disappointed with not making the play-off stage of the Europa League.
The Portuguese blend
A mix of youthful skills and experienced play got Sporting the win in this. Whilst little separated the sides overall, Sporting had two key cogs turning well for them.
In attack, teenager Tomas was clinical for the first goal whilst 22-year old Jovane Cabral also carried attacking impetus. They also had experienced men like ex-Liverpool centre-back Sebastian Coates and former Portuguese international Neto using good game management to take the game away from Aberdeen.