Aberdeen failed to get past the Europa League third qualifying round for the sixth consecutive season after an abject defeat at the hands of Rijeka.
The Scottish Premiership side – who trailed 2-0 from the first leg in Croatia – were two goals and a man down with just over half an hour played.
Stjepan Loncar had already scored for Rijeka before Funso Ojo received the second of two yellow cards. Antonio Colak then added a second for the visitors to effectively end the tie with an hour remaining.
It leaves Aberdeen’s early season optimism already seeming a distant memory, with defeats in both legs of this tie straddling a Scottish Premiership loss at St Mirren.
‘Not bad luck, just deserved’
The pre-match display from the Aberdeen fans painted a simple message across a long red banner; “Believe”. And the stage was set with Derek McInnes naming the talismanic Sam Cosgrove in the starting line-up despite ruling him out the day before.
Aberdeen had sparkled on their last Europa home tie against Chikhura Sachkhere, romping to a 5-0 win. That memory, and the famous European nights that Pittodrie had witnessed in the past, gave hope to the 15,000 plus crowd that a special 90 minutes could emerge. But instead, it was an evening when the hosts appeared determined to shoot themselves in the foot.
An Aberdeen corner ended with Rijeka sprinting forward on the counter-attack. Zoran Kvrzic got the cross in for Stjepan Loncar to silence the crowd. It was a simple goal, and Rijeka had tightened an already vice-like grip on the tie.
The target had now doubled. Two goals and a clean sheet would have forced extra-time. Now Aberdeen needed four. And the odds of that rocketed when summer signing Ojo, already on a yellow card, lunged into a challenge late and, with 70 minutes still to play, the Scottish side were a man down.
Rijeka goalkeeper Andrej Prskalo had likely expected a busy night. Instead he was a passenger as his side again broke on the break, and Antonio Colak headed in a cross to the far post after easily beating Greg Leigh to the ball.
It was not bad luck, Aberdeen deserved the drubbing they were getting. A half-hearted effort from Ryan Hedges from the edge of the box was just about the best the home side offered in front of an increasingly disillusioned Pittodrie.
Fans could maybe have taken some solace had Rijeka been impressive. Instead Aberdeen were their own worst enemy; ponderous in possession and unconvincing in defence. They had barely laid a glove on the Croatians in the first leg and were meekly surrendering at home.
The game was reduced to walking pace with Rijeka safe in the knowledge they were heading to Ghent for the play-off round, while Aberdeen now badly need to win in Sunday’s League Cup tie at Dundee to quell rising discontent from supporters.
‘A deflating night of football’ – analysis
Former Aberdeen defender Willie Miller on Sportsound
Aberdeen came out at half-time and went into a mode of 4-4-1 and didn’t even attempt to get a shot on target. Aberdeen seemed quite happy for Rijeka to be in total control as long as they don’t score more goals and make it more embarrassing.
It’s just deflating evening of football. The performances over the two legs have been disappointing.