Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes admitted his side “weren’t good enough” from the start after they crumbled out of Europa League qualifying.
The Dons’ 2-0 loss last night matched the result in Croatia last week to send Rijeka through with a 4-0 aggregate win.
A quick break saw Stjepan Loncar open the scoring for the visitors – after Scott McKenna and Sam Cosgrove calamitously collided at the other end – before £125,000 signing Funso Ojo was dismissed for a second yellow card in 20 minutes.
With Antonio Colak also netting before half-time, the second half was a total formality.
However, McInnes, who has watched his team fall at the third qualifying round five times in six attempts, thinks Austrian referee Harald Lechner’s decision to send off midfielder Ojo smacked of double standards.
He said: “Up until the sending off we weren’t good enough. We were excitable with the ball, needed to settle down.
“We just made some really poor decisions, even from the first minute.
“The first goal comes from our corner kick, a poor delivery and then the second phase, we let ourselves be hit on the counter. Losing that first goal was like a balloon popping because the fans had turned up and played their part.
“We needed to be better in possession in that first period.
“Rijeka are more than decent. It’s disrespectful to think they’re an average team. They’re more than capable of taking advantage of our poor decision making.
“After the sending off, it’s unfair on my players to be criticised. The game was effectively done.
“It was an awful decision, to deem that two yellow card offences. I’ve never seen the like.
“There were other challenges that he didn’t deem yellow cards, which surprised me, given what he did to Funso. There were Rijeka players with four or five fouls who didn’t get booked.
“It’s poor decision making from us – and an awful decision from the referee has made it a very disappointing night.”
The boss added: “I don’t think Funso is naïve. He’s been caught on the ball and put a challenge in.
“The second one is maybe more of a yellow card than the first one, but I still shake my head at it. The referee hammered the final nail in the coffin by sending him off.
“I’m not blaming the referee, I need to stress that – but Christ he had a big part to play in that tonight. We needed to be far better, so there are very few positives I can take from the European experience.
“We need to dust ourselves down, we’re out of Europe and need to focus on domestic matters. There will be loads of doom and gloom, loads of people doubting my team.”
McInnes had surprised everybody with the inclusion from the start of eight-goal striker Sam Cosgrove, who he’d said was out with a hamstring injury.
However, as Dons temperatures increased, the Englishman – who’d been booked in the first half – looked more likely to join Ojo in the dressing room than scoring and was eventually hooked for Curtis Main.
Once it was at the stage where Aberdeen were a man down and then in need of five unanswered goals to get through to the play-offs, McInnes admitted he started thinking about Sunday’s Betfred Cup clash against Dundee at Dens Park.
Aberdeen will go there trying to stop the rot of three straight defeats, after a league loss at St Mirren on Sunday punctuated the Rijeka defeats.
McInnes said: “You don’t find yourself in that situation very often, a goal down and down to ten men so early, when your fans have turned up ready for a big yeeha and get in about it.
“From then I’m thinking about the Dundee game, thinking about getting men off.”
On Cosgrove, McInnes said: “He was fit. I wasn’t totally honest because we hadn’t ruled him out totally. I wanted them to not know he would be in until they saw the teamsheet.
“We wanted to see if Sam reacted today. He was keen to give it a go. He was fit, but we got him off after 50-odd minutes so we didn’t put it more at risk.
“If there is no more reaction, he should be fit for Sunday’s game.
“It’s a game that has become really important for us to show a response.”