ABERDEEN’S Europa League exit rounded off a disappointing couple of days for Scottish teams in continental competition but, unlike Celtic, Derek McInnes’ side had nothing to feel embarrassed about.
Aberdeen 2 - Pawlett 44; Reynolds 57
Real Sociedad 3 - Xabi Prieto 28, 86; Bergara 90
Sociedad won 5-2 on aggregate
Referee: E Shuelevitz (Isr)
There was certainly no shame in going out to a team of the calibre of Real Sociedad, who this time last year were qualifying for the Champions League by beating Lyon 4-0 on aggregate.
Twelve months ago, McInnes was embarking on his first full campaign in charge and looking to redeem the reputation of a team whose previous European adventure ended in a record
Since then they have won a first trophy in 19 years, finished comfortably in the top half of the league and acquitted themselves admirably in Europe, even if they did fall short against top quality opposition.
In fact, this 3-2 defeat at Pittodrie was cruel on a team who, for a short spell in the second half, looked like they were in with a chance of pulling off one of the club’s best ever results in continental competition.
It took a late Real Sociedad penalty to finally end Aberdeen’s brave resistance and it was adding insult to injury when Markel Bergara headed home a winner in last minute from a Canales cross.
The Dons manager was well aware of the balancing act required to get back into a tie after failing to score an away goal as the loss of one would have left them needing four to progress.
The La Liga side’s pressing game forced a few careless errors from their opponents but Aberdeen, in front of fans with 5,000 vuvuzelas, looked far more threatening given their pace, movement and ingenuity.
For example, David Goodwillie spotted then picked out Niall McGinn’s run into the inside right channel and the Northern Ireland international clipped a clever shot just over the bar.
Then a Jonny Hayes corner played to the edge of the area was helped on by Andrew Considine but Ryan Jack’s delight at prodding the ball into the net was cut short by an offside flag.
McInnes and his players will be distraught at how they conceded the goal that effectively ended the tie as a contest.
It all stemmed from the loss of a needless corner in 28 minutes, then a lack of concentration when defending Chori Castro’s kick as captain Xabi Prieto lost his near-post marker to glance in the simplest of goals.
Aberdeen certainly couldn’t be faulted for effort or commitment as they continued to probe for a way to at least win the tie on the night and their persistence was rewarded a minute from the interval. Not for the first time, Goodwillie drifted into space in the penalty area when McGinn’s cross caused all sorts of chaos, before eventually being deflecting into the
Goodwillie’s shot was blocked but, in a ruck of players, Pawlett responded quickest to force the rebound over the line for a deserved leveller at that stage.
Hayes was incensed to be denied a penalty when he burst clear but took his frustration out on Joseba Zaldua with a reckless challenge and was booked.
It was a clear indication that Aberdeen were going to throw everything they had left to put pressure on their more illustrious opponents and the miracle comeback looked possible in
Hayes and McGinn made space on the left when a corner wasn’t dealt with and the latter swung an inviting ball to the back post where Mark Reynolds rose to steer in a header.
The ineffectual Alfred Finnbogason immediately gave way for Imanol Agirretxe and he should have ended all doubt about the outcome with his first touch. The striker was sent clean through on goal but Jamie Langfield raced off his line to get in a vital block – as belief grew around the stadium that something special was still distinctly possible.
Adam Rooney was brought on to bolster the attack and Real Sociedad looked anything but convincing when Aberdeen got at them down the flanks while at the other end they continued to squander good chances
Sergio Canales, the scored of their second goal last week, missed two great chances after coming on in the second half, pulling his efforts wide when he should have hit target.
Of course, Aberdeen’s adventurism left gaps at the back which the Spanish side eventually exploited after left-back Alberto de la Bella’s wonderful diagonal run was met with a perfect pass inside Shay Logan.
The full-back’s clumsy challenge brought a spot-kick and Prieto’s delightful, arrogant
Andrea Pirlo-style kick finally eased any anxiety Jorge Arrasate’s side might have been
feeling. Then, in the dying
seconds of the match, Canales got clear down the right, bent a delicious cross into the six-yard box and Bergara nipped in to glance in a goal that really was rubbing salt into Aberdeen’s wounds.