Aberdeen’s Europa League campaign ended in third round qualifying round for the fifth time in six years as they crumbled against Rijeka at Pittodrie.
The 2-0 score on the night meant the tie ended 4-0 on aggregate to the Croatians.
However, if Derek McInnes’ side let themselves down with mistakes in the first leg, it was nothing compared to the excruciating early errors they made in the Granite City.
By half-time, a goal from Stjepan Loncar – after Sam Cosgrove and Scott McKenna had collided in the visitors’ area, Funso Ojo’s ridiculous dismissal and Antonio Colak’s second had sealed the deal for Rijeka.
It had all started with such optimism.
More than an hour before kick-off at Pittodrie, the cat was out of the bag star striker Cosgrove – supposedly laid low with a “hamstring injury” and having missed the Premiership loss to St Mirren – was in the starting line-up.
Niall McGinn, Jon Gallagher and Shay Logan also came back in after Curtis Main, Scott Wright, Connor McLennan and Zak Vyner had started in Paisley.
Despite this boost, it was Rijeka who threatened first, the rapid winger Maxwell Acosty tearing past three red shirts before being stopped by Andy Considine on the edge of the area.
On six minutes, Ojo was booked by referee Harald Lechner for his challenge on Acosty.
After weathering a storm in the opening minutes, it looked like the Dons were growing into the game. However, after Scott McKenna and Cosgrove collided at a corner, Rijeka broke, with Loncar producing a neat finish from a front post cross to score – and put Aberdeen 3-0 down on aggregate.
From this position, McInnes’ side needed four unanswered goals, but it was to get worse.
The Dons dire situation was reflected on 19 minutes when Ojo, under no pressure, sent a short pass from the centre-circle to Logan straight out of play.
A minute later, he received his marching orders for a rash challenge on Luka Capan 25 yards from the Reds’ goal – his fifth yellow in sixth games catastrophic for the home team.
Joe Lewis was also booked for his protestations.
Then, on 27 minutes, Cosgrove was also given a yellow card, as the Dons let their emotions get the better of them and teetered on the edge of implosion.
Rijeka’s second came on 32 minutes. Acosty was quick on the break again and, despite Jon Gallagher racing to catch him, the ball broke to visiting skipper Zoran Kvrzic, and his cross was nodded in at the back post by Colak.
With the tie gone, McInnes opted to shore up his midfield at this point, hooking winger Niall McGinn for Dean Campbell – who slotted into the hole Ojo had left in midfield.
Aberdeen were to round off the worst half they could’ve imagined with a shot on target, with Ryan Hedges’ sweetly struck low volley from two yards forcing Andrej Prskalo to scramble to save at his far post.
After the break, Gallagher briefly looked like scoring when he intercepted Ivan Lepinjica’s ball across the back, but despite him turning on the afterburners to reach the box, he was eventually crowded out.
Cosgrove was taken off on 53 minutes, with Main replacing him. The striker was a second sending off waiting to happen and could’ve feasibly already received a another booking for a few late challenges.
James Wilson, a forgotten man so far this term after signing permanently at the end of his Manchester United deal, was then thrown on for Hedges.
However, there was little chance of even a consolation goal and the Dons’ European campaign ended in misery – and the feeling they’d let themselves down – once more.
Aberdeen: Lewis, Logan, Leigh, Considine, McKenna, McGinn, Hedges, Cosgrove, Ferguson, Gallagher, Ojo.
Subs: Campbell (for McGinn 34), Main (for Cosgrove 53), Wilson (for Hedges 74)
Subs not used: Cerny, Devlin, Wilson, McLennan, Vyner.
Rijeka: Prskalo, Puncec, Lepinjica, Kvrzic, Halilovic, Zuparic, Acosty, Colak, Raspopovic, Capan, Loncar.
Subs: Muric (for Loncar 74), Vuk (for Acosty 82), Iglesias (for Halilovic 82)
Subs not used: Pandur, Velkoski, Escoval, Smolcic.
Referee: Harald Lechner.
Attendance: 15, 246