Sam Cosgrove’s penalty earned Aberdeen a 1-1 draw following a scrappy Europa League clash in Georgia.

The Dons trailed to a first-half spot-kick against Chikhura Sachkere but Cosgrove kept his nerve to level midway through the second half in Tblisi.

The away goal makes Aberdeen favourites to set up a tie against Rijeka in the third qualifying round but they will need to step up a gear for next week’s second leg at Pittodrie.

The game was played in a strange atmosphere in the Boris Paichadze Stadium, venue of two disappointing defeats for Scotland over the past 12 years.

Sachkere’s 2,000-capacity ground was deemed unsuitable by UEFA so the tie was moved to the national stadium, which holds 54,500. Despite free entry, the stadium was near empty.

Aberdeen started well enough but Ash Taylor endured a difficult night which culminated in him limping off inside 18 minutes. The centre-back earlier failed to make the most of a decent headed opportunity and was booked for a badly mistimed tackle.

With no defenders on the bench, Derek McInnes brought on midfielder Craig Bryson for a debut and reshuffled his back four. Andrew Considine moved into the middle, Shay Logan switched flanks to left-back and Jon Gallagher dropped to right-back.

Tackles were flying in from both sides and former Scunthorpe midfielder Funso Ojo was fortunate to escape with the game’s fourth yellow card midway through the half for a wild tackle.

Worse was to follow for the debutant, when he clumsily ran into Irakli Lekvtadze as he raced back into his penalty area. The midfielder was playing for the penalty as he crashed to the ground and the referee obliged.

Dons goalkeeper Joe Lewis dived the right way but the ball just evaded his hands as Giorgi Koripadze gave the hosts a 41st-minute lead.

The visitors only forced the home keeper into action twice during the first half, once through a harmless shot from Cosgrove and late on when he punched away a Ryan Hedges cross.

McInnes again switched his defence at half-time, moving Logan back to his normal position and bringing Hedges back to left-back, and the latter threatened just after the break but his cross was cut out.

The Wales international was struggling to adapt at the back though and the visitors threatened twice before Aberdeen began to improve around the hour mark.

The pressure paid off when Davit Maisashvili was penalised for handball as he raised his arm to stop the ball as Hedges flicked it over him just inside the box.

Cosgrove took his time and stroked the ball above the goalkeeper and into the corner of the net.

The Dons did not build on their equaliser and Lewis was at full stretch to stop  an attempted lob from Mikheili Ergemlidze after the forward had got away from Hedges to latch on to a lofted through ball.