DEREK McInnes knew there would be no repeat of the goal glut his side enjoyed in the previous round against feckless FK Daugava, but the Aberdeen manager would be frustrated not to be taking a lead to the Netherlands next week.
The Pittodrie club created several openings against skilful opponents who made up for their lack of pace with some pragmatic tactics at time. They were opened up on several occasions but showed enough glimpses in possession to suggest it will be a very tough test for the Dons in the Euroberg Stadium.
On the plus side, Aberdeen have the pace and ability to cause real problems and a precious away goal could be good enough to make today’s third qualifying draw more than an academic exercise for them.
David Goodwillie was eligible to play for the first time but had to settle for a place on the bench as McInnes went with the side that beat FK Daugava 5-0.
That meant the return of Peter Pawlett as the midfielder had finally recovered from the battering he took against the Latvians at Pittodrie.
The importance of his availability quickly became apparent as the player used his pace and trickery to nutmeg Hans Hateboer before sending over a cross Adam Rooney couldn’t convert.
Groningen’s right back needed a rear-view mirror to spot Pawlett again in 16 minutes as he sprinted away before forcing Sergio Padt into a blocking save that was deflected for a corner.
To be fair, those were rare early moments of discomfort for a classy-looking Dutch side who moved the ball with precision, much to the delight of a vociferous 600-plus travelling support.
It was always just a matter of time before Aberdeen got fed-up standing back in admiration though, with players like Willo Flood and Ryan Jack. They increased the tempo and aggression levels, making Groningen a lot less comfortable the longer the first half progressed, with Pawlett a chief instigator.
Even Hateboer’s crude attempts to upset his opponent failed to lessen Pawlett’s impact down the left flank. Not that the 23-year-old seemed to be intimidated as he remained a constant source of danger.
In 25 minutes, Pawlett once again danced away from his ineffectual marker before picking out the supporting run of Niall McGinn. The former Celtic winger’s shot was blocked for a corner with some desperate last-ditch defending responsible for denying Aberdeen a lead their play merited at that point.
There was another example of that misfortune when a Jonny Hayes header from a Flood run and cross down the right was spilled by Padt but the referee awarded the goalkeeper a soft foul before the Dons could convert the loose ball.
It was a measure of the home side’s control of game that it took Groningen until three minutes from the interval to create even a half chance of their own.
Hateboer must have been relieved to escape a chasing at the other end as he broke forward for once and Jamie Langfield was forced into a reflex save to prevent Danny Hoesen deflecting the ball in at the near post. It was only temporary respite for the poor right-back though, as Hayes took his turn at torturing the hapless Hateboer.
It took a covering block by Eric Botteghin to avert the danger before the referee spared Padt’s blushes, further adding to Aberdeen’s frustrations. The goalkeeper ran into traffic going for McGinn’s corner with Jack eventually turning in the loose ball, only for Hugo Miguel to award one of those baffling free kicks for a foul on Padt.
There was no disputing the referee’s next decision though, as Nick van der Velden was booked for flattening Hayes and captain Maikel Kieftenbeld quickly followed for persistent fouling.
It was no surprise when poor old Hateboer was finally cautioned for the latest in a series of fouls on Pawlett, but just as the visitors seemed to be struggling physically, they started to cause a few moments of concern themselves. None more so than Rasmus Lindgren as the midfielder forced Langfield into a full-length diving save to push his 30-yard drive to safety.
Home expectation levels soared again when David Goodwillie was given 15 minutes to make an impression but it was the Dutch side who went closest to breaking the deadlock.
Substitutes Jarchinio Antonia and Dino Islamovic broke clear on the counterattack with the latter steering the former’s cross just wide of the target.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Logan, Anderson, Reynolds, Hayes, Jack, Flood, Robson, Pawlett (Low 89), McGinn, Rooney (Goodwillie 76). Subs not used: Brown, Considine, Taylor, Smith, Wright.
Groningen: Padt, Hateboer, Botteghin, Kappelhof, Burnet, Lindgren, Kieftenbeld, Chery, Van der Velden (Islamovic 82), Hoesen (Antonia 65), Kostic. Subs not used: van der Vlag, De Leeuw, van Nieff, Hiariej, Magnasco.