Dundee United 0 AEK Athens 1
AEK Athens will take a 1-0 lead back home to await Dundee United next week. Dundee United's hopes of qualifying for the Europa League were left dangling by at thread after they lost an away goal at Tannadice last night. Rafik Djebbour scored the only goal of the game after 11 minutes when he slotted home Ignacio Scocco's inviting cross in the first leg of the qualifying round tie. After a nervous opening, the hosts found their composure as the game wore on but were unable to put the AEK rearguard under any real or sustained pressure, although Jon Daly could have scored a precious equaliser in the closing stages but failed to find the target with only goalkeeper to beat. Dundee United made one change with youngster Keith Watson preferred to defender Darren Dods. There was also no place in the squad for influential midfielder Danny Swanson, who had been struggling to recover from an Achilles injury. AEK were without defender Daniel Majstorovic following his move to Celtic but the visitors still fielded a strong side which included Brazilian Leonardo and highly-rated Argentinian winger Scocco. However, former Fulham and Portsmouth midfielder Papa Bouba Diop had to be content with a place on the bench at the start.
AEK settled into the game immediately and were content to hold the ball and play a slow, passing game, while United made a nervy start and were fortunate that a couple of stray passes went unpunished. But the hosts were made to pay for their tentative start after 11 minutes when Scocco's tantalising ball across the United goal was slammed into the back of the net by the clinical Djebbour. The same pair combined three minutes later but this time Dusan Pernis was equal to Djebbour's low drive. United created their first opening soon after but Daly headed over from a David Goodwillie cross. Peter Houston had warned his players about strict referee Marijo Strahonja but Craig Conway failed to take heed of his manager's words and was booked after 18 minutes for throwing the ball away. As the half wore on United came more into the game but were too often let down by a poor final ball. Paul Dixon did, however, send an inviting cross into the area after 32 minutes but goalkeeper Sebastian Saja punched the ball to safety. Nikos Liberopoulos was booked just before the break for a crude challenge on Conway, who was United's most promising outlet during the first half.
AEK made a lively start to the second half with Leonardo unleashing a low drive from the edge of the area that Pernis gathered at the second attempt. Conway created an opening for himself with some fancy footwork but his powerful shot was blocked by Pantelis Kafes. Leonardo should have done better after 56 minutes but the Brazilian could only divert his header straight at Pernis. United continued to press for an equaliser and the ball broke kindly on the edge of the area for Watson after 62 minutes but the young right-back failed to keep his volley on target. The visitors introduced the speedy Nathan Burns for the injured Leonardo as they looked to secure a second goal that would effectively kill off the tie and with 10 minutes left to play the Australian was inches away from turning home a Scocco cross. Irishman Daly, who had been starved of service for most of the evening, could have equalised in the closing stages when the ball broke for him in the area but he dragged his left-foot shot woefully wide of the target.
Subs not used:
Booked: AEK Athens: Djebbour
Ger Harley (ger@scottishfitba net)
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