Aberdeen came within the width of a post of being utterly humiliated in Luxembourg last night as they crashed to an awful defeat against a team who had never won a European game in 11 previous attempts, but crept through on aggregate.
Derek McInnes’ side produced a truly woeful display and could easily have crashed out on the away goal rule when Fola hit the post with 15 minutes left after Samir Hadji’s goal on the stroke of half time.
They needed the two injury-time goals they got last week at Pittodrie in the first leg to take the 3-1 advantage to Luxembourg.
But the Dons fans – who booed their own players and applauded the home team off the park – were hugely relieved at the end after Fola launched a late onslaught as they tried to go through with Aberdeen clinging on for dear life.
McInnes gave Euro 2016 hero Niall McGinn a rest and he admitted after the game that decision almost cost his side.
He said: “Niall is a huge player for us, but I have an obligation to look after him for the whole season. You could maybe say we should be good enough to come here with a two-goal lead and go through without Niall. But there were times in the game I started to doubt that. Thankfully, he will be back for the next round.
“It was a gamble and I don’t like gambling. But the boy hasn’t had a break for three years and I have a responsibility to look after Niall for the whole season, not just for now. We should have been good enough to win without him. While Niall’s importance is clear, it doesn’t allow for the below-par performance.
“In cup football it is all about getting through and the only positive we can take from this game is the fact we have gone through. Fola deserved more from tonight as I thought they were excellent. They were determined, confident and energetic, everything that was lacking from our performance and I need to take responsibility for that.”
McInnes had vowed his side would go all out to kill the tie off early but, in a temperature of 25 degrees at kick-off, they came perilously close to going a goal down inside the opening two minutes, when Stefano Bensi tried an audacious lob from just over the halfway line that had Joe Lewis scrambling back and the ball only just missed the target by inches.
With McInnes urging his players to “wake up” from the sidelines, they created their only decent opening in the 20th minute when Peter Pawlett sent over a low cross to Jayden Stockley, pictured, and the former Bournemouth striker was denied his first Aberdeen goal by an instinctive block by Fola goalkeeper Thomas Hym.
However, Fola deservedly took the lead a minute before the interval. Once again the Scots’ defence was carved open through their suspect middle by a simple pass from Bensi, with Ash Taylor trying to play offside and Hadji sprinted clear before blasting a composed finish past Lewis.
Fola came agonisingly close to going ahead on the away goal rule five minutes after the interval when more shambolic defending allowed Bensi to size up a shot and his curling effort was brilliantly tipped round the post by Lewis.
Aberdeen were on the ropes for the last 15 minutes and Emmanuel Francoise cracked the post with a shot that had Lewis beaten. The Scots qualified by the skin of their teeth to the sound of boos from the 500 visiting fans, but now go on to meet Latvian club Ventspils in the second round.
Fola boss Jeff Strasser stated: “I am very proud of the team. We dominated Aberdeen over 90 minutes.
“We were the width of the post away from qualifying and Aberdeen had only one chance during the whole game.”
FOLA ESCH: Hym, Laterza, Klein, Bernard, Kirch, Klapp (Rodrigues 72), Muharemovic (Lopes 87), Dallevedove, Francoise (Camerling 79), Hadji, Bensi.Subs not used: abral, Martino, Sacras, Bechtold.
ABERDEEN: Lewis, Logan, Considine, Taylor, Shinnie, O’Connor (Flood 46), Jack, McLean, Pawlett (Reynolds 46), Hayes, Stockley (Rooney 63). Subs not used: Alexander, Shankland, Smith, Wright.