AaB came into Thursday’s second leg with spring in their steps and quality and determination not shown in the match last week at Eastlands. Energi Nord Arena was a superb venue for the match and the atmosphere had the feel of an FA Cup tie at a lower league side’s home venue.
Robinho’s below par form continued and the play of Shaun Wright Phillps and later Elano bordered on embarrassing. Stephen Ireland as he has been so often this season was City’s only real attacking threat, but his quality could not help spur forward an otherwise lackluster affect. City only had to protect a 2-0 scoreline but failed to do so.
AaB made two critical second half substitutions which changed the game. Siyabonga Nomvethe came on just after halftime and helped open up City defense, and Marcus Tracey a player I covered while he was competing at the college level the United States came on in the 77th minute and further stretched City’s defense.
Strangely, with Robinho so ineffective and Wright Phillps evidently taking the day off Mark Hughes did not swap an attacker for a defender to close out the match when the opposition brought on two attacking players. Thus AaB created four goal scoring opportunities after minute 80, resulting in one clean goal and one spot kick goal, and the tie was drawn level on aggregate.
Extra Time was a one sided affair with the Danish side dominating play but failing to get a winning goal. Shay Given, one of the best keepers in the world then made two PK saves in the shootout to carry City to the quarterfinals.
Despite the “victory” it is difficult to be encouraged by City’s prospects against any remaining UEFA Cup participant after such a poor display of football against an over matched side. Mark Hughes had his tactics all wrong late today and that is sure to add fuel to the “sack Hughes” movement that seems to be gaining steam with time.
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