Aberdeen fringe men Pape Gueye and Jack Milne had differing fortunes when they were brought in from the cold, figuratively speaking, in Thursday’s 2-2 draw at HJK Helsinki.
Dons fans got their first look at summer signing Gueye and youth academy graduate defender Milne in a competitive starting line-up at the Bolt Arena.
Boss Barry Robson made seven changes from Sunday’s 1-1 Premiership draw at home to Rangers for the Europa Conference League group game in Finland.
Despite 500,000 euros being up for grabs if either the Reds or HJK could land a first Group G victory, with no chance of progress (for both clubs), Robson decided to give some squad players the chance to impress while resting other key men ahead of this Sunday’s league trip to Hibs.
Of the seven changes, Gueye and Milne were the only two who had not started any game this season. In fact, neither had started any competitive match for Aberdeen previously.
Gueye and Milne handed competitive starting debuts after biding time
Gueye, 24, was a £500,000 summer signing from KV Kortrijk, but had only played 56 competitive minutes before Thursday night due to being behind Bojan Miovski, Duk and Ester Sokler in the Pittodrie striking pecking order.
With Miovski and Sokler on the bench after their weekend double act, he was given the chance to partner Duk in a two-pronged attack against HJK.
Highly thought-of around Pittodrie and Cormack Park, 20-year-old Milne – converted from a central midfielder to a defender over the past couple of seasons – started at right-back instead of first-choice Nicky Devlin.
Any assessment of either player’s performance has to be caveated with the slippy and increasingly snowy conditions throughout proceedings at the Bolt Arena – weather which would have almost certainly seen a domestic game in Scotland postponed quicker than Usain Bolt.
Gueye’s touch and decision-making lets him down, as Milne battles Keskinen
What is immediately obvious about Gueye and Milne, and what they have in common, is size and running power.
In the first minute, Milne made a good recovery after almost letting in left-sided HJK attacker Topi Keskinen out wide.
Moments later, the young Don would get the better of his man in a 50/50 driving run down the right – emerging from the Finn’s challenge and crossing to Duk, who nodded the ball down to Gueye six yards out.
However, the forward was denied a near-immediate scoring impact on his first competitive start by home centre-half Miro Tenho.
Keskinen breezed by Milne on 12 minutes on his way into the box to force a double save from Reds goalie Kelle Roos, just four minutes before HJK took the lead after Slobodan Rubezic – playing inside Milne at right centre-back – rashly stepped out of the defensive line.
Bar his early chance, Gueye didn’t get near the ball in the opening 25 minutes – largely due to the lack of composure behind him, but was at least trying to put himself about.
Twice towards the end of this period, he finally found himself with possession. But – choosing to run at defenders instead of passing – he looked uncertain and found himself going down dead ends, across the pitch and away from the HJK goal, and then forwards into a cluster of home players.
On 30 minutes, Gueye – standing at halfway – was the out-ball for fellow starting debutant Milne after he nicked the ball off Keskinen when he tried to beat him again.
However, the big striker’s touch was poor and moments later, with HJK back in possession, Keskinen had another chance to take on Milne, dancing past him this time before eventually being stopped.
Four minutes later, Santeri Hostikka had cruised past Richard Jensen to fire HJK two goals to the good. It was no less than they deserved.
After Angus MacDonald’s incredible 30-yard bullet into the right top corner had hauled Aberdeen back within one goal on 41 minutes, there were a couple of quick attacks where Gueye was involved.
He made the right choice with the first intervention, flicking the ball into Dante Polvara’s path deftly, but again showed too much hesitation before threading the ball through to Duk on the stroke of half-time.
Striker Gueye hooked at half-time for Sokler – as Milne acquits himself well
Gueye would not emerge for the second half, having been replaced by Ester Sokler at the break in a double change which also saw Jamie McGrath replace Ryan Duncan in midfield.
He could perhaps count himself unfortunate, as he had been busier than Duk, but was perhaps less trusted by Robson to produce a moment of magic.
Duk’s 56th-minute headed leveller proved Robson’s decision correct.
But, from the moment the second half started, sub Sokler – producing better hold-up play and more menacing runs – showed why he is ahead of fellow summer signing Gueye in the Dons’ plans at present.
The Aberdeen team’s tails were up, of course, as they came into the ascendancy and looked the more likely team to go on to win the game.
But Sokler’s ability to bring his team-mates into play, make dangerous runs to receive the ball behind the HJK defence and link-up with Duk was in contrast to Gueye’s struggles.
Milne, meanwhile, was a beneficiary of Aberdeen gaining the upperhand and Keskinen’s dwindling influence down the Dons’ right-hand side.
He kept the shackles on the attacker when called upon – winning an important tackle on the byeline as the forward looked to move in on goal in one such intervention.
He was hooked following the 10-minute snow-enforced delay late in the game, replaced by the more experienced Nicky Devlin as Robson looked to get the win over the line.
However, it had been a decent enough showing for the emerging talent.