Adam Rooney ensured Aberdeen’s serene passage into the Europa League second qualifying round against Dutch team Groningen with a superb hat-trick as the Dons swept aside Latvian side Daugava Riga last night.
The Irishman netted three quality goals in the first half of a one-sided encounter at the Daugava Stadium as Aberdeen secured an 8-0 aggregate victory.
The Scottish Premiership season may still be more than three weeks away, but the Dons have hit their straps in these two European matches and Derek McInnes’ side look in fine fettle for the sterner challenges ahead.
Not since Mark McGhee in 1984 had an Aberdeen player netted three against European opposition, but the Irishman showed he is ready for the campaign with a quality display of skilful and composed finishing.
Suspicions of match-fixing, two players sent off in the first match and five goals conceded, not a good week for the Latvians.
Indifference from the home support as meek, with a smattering of just a couple of hundred supporters inside the ground, which is the national athletics stadium.
Drinks sold outside the ground, until the Uefa delegate stepped in with gusto, combined to give the match a surreal feel with photographers banned from the surrounds of the pitch as the freight trains rattled and rolled past the stadium.
Wary of the excesses of the Daugava challenges in the opening match, Ashton Taylor, making his Aberdeen debut, and Andrew Considine came in for the injured Peter Pawlett and Russell Anderson, with the captain dropping to the bench.
A new black away kit for the Dons was on display and the funereal atmosphere was only broken by the lusty efforts of the 220 Aberdeen supporters.
However, the home side were started more brightly and were quick to break with the five new faces in their clearly keen to impress with Viktor Flora the first to try his luck from distance with a shot which Jamie Langfield sail over his bar.
Emils Knapsis stole a march on Taylor and was the next to shoot wide.
However, the Dons started to stamp their control on the match although the Latvians were not afraid of the occasional shuddering tackle urged on by the eight flag-waving supporters who presumably made up the Daugava ultras.
Niall McGinn had Aberdeen’s best early chance but after clearly build-up play he volleyed narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area.
However, the Dons’ dominance was rewarded with a stunning opener when, from Jonny Hayes’ cross from the left, Adam Rooney produced a sumptuous flicked finish which gave goalkeeper Ignis Krumins no chance. It was a wonderful goal which ended any fanciful hopes of a comeback from the home side.
Russian referee Mikhail Vikov was keeping control of the match well and Shay Logan was close to extending Aberdeen’s lead after little more than half an hour with a strong surge and low show which inched just past the post.
Another sharp finish from Rooney, reacting first and with devastating effect to Logan’s cross, doubled Aberdeen’s lead five minutes before the interval.
The scoreline threatened to become humiliating for the outclassed hosts when, with just moments remaining before the interval, Rooney stretched to meet Hayes’ driven cross from the left and volleyed in his and Aberdeen’s third goal.
Game over and a superb display of match-management from the Dons who will certainly face a more formidable challenge next Thursday when they host Dutch club Groningen.
The pattern of dominance continued into the second period as the Dons, with an increasing and gusting wind at their backs, were content to display their dominance with midfielder Barry Robson, on any other day the man of the match, producing a superb performance full of clever passing and powerful tackling when needed.
The Dons replaced Hayes with Cammy Smith soon after the Irishman had needed treatment on an ankle injury and although Daugava stuck manfully to their task, quality was at a premium.
The fire had gone from the contest although the significant danger for the Dons was injury as again the tackles and lunges started – much as they had in the first leg.
The Dons were happy to keep their opponents well away from Jamie Langfield’s goal while launching the odd foray forward as the contest fizzled out.