Aberdeen’s hopes of reaching the Europa League play-offs are hanging by the slenderest of threads.
No disgrace in losing to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian last night as the La Liga are a cut above, but there remains a chance for the Dons.
Two second-half goals were a fitting reward for the Spaniards who dominated possession against an Aberdeen side which could not muster a single shot on David Zubikara’s goal throughout the 90 minutes.
Stranger things have happened, however, and the Dons’ dogged determination not to collapse to an even heavier defeat was a tribute to their tenacity.
Trouble is it may well not be enough.
The Dons made one change to the team which had seen off Dutch club Groningen seven days earlier with midfielder Barry Robson replacing defender Andrew Considine with Jonny Hayes dropping back to left back from midfield.
To have any chance of escaping from San Sebastian with hope of progressing through to the play-off round manager Derek McInnes needed every one of his players to match their performance in the Euroborg stadium from last Thursday.
The nearly 500 Aberdeen supporters in a two-third stadium would have been hugely impressed and encouraged by their side’s start to the match, with both teams cautious and unwilling to commit too many runners forward to support the lone attacker.
It took 20 minutes for the game’s first corner, and with it the first chance of note.
Ryan Jack’s brilliant tackle at the eventual expense of a corner was swung in by Chory Castro and summer signing from Heerenveen Alfred Finnbogason found space in the penalty area but his header had neither pace or direction.
But Real were warming to their task and Xabi Prieto almost gave the home side the lead with a well-struck shot which flew just wide of Jamie Langfield’s post with the goalkeeper beaten.
David Zuratuza tumbled in the penalty area under a challenge from Willo Flood, no penalty said German referee Bastian Dankert despite the howls from home supporters who were out of their seats again when Markel Bergara was the next to try his luck from distance but his effort was too high.
The Dons were being increasingly pressed back as Real, despite their lack of competitive matches, started to take control.
Again Real pressed and Castro’s header gave Finnbogason a chance just eight yards from goal but he could not keep his effort down while Ruben Pardo was the next to try a shot after a cross from the right, but incredibly again he shot high and wide.
Aberdeen’s goal was leading a charmed life with Rooney completely isolated in attack as Real continued to dominate and it took until the final minute of the first half for the Dons to mount any sort of attack on the Real goal but Mark Reynolds’ effort from Hayes’ free kick was nowhere near the target.
Possession was at a premium for Aberdeen as the defence had creaked throughout the opening half with every player performing manfully to stem the blue and white attacks.
Five minutes after the interval Finnbogason, who scored 59 goals in Dutch football in the past two seasons, finally had the first effort on target, but his shot was weak and straight at Langfield.
Real would not be denied, however, and their pressure eventually earned its reward on 53 minutes. Joseba Zaldua got past Hayes on the right and crossed for Finnbogason.
His shot was blocked by Shay Logan two yards from goal but the rebound fell perfectly for David Zurutuza and he shot powerfully past Langfield.
The worst start possible to the second half for Aberdeen.
Despite the introduction of defender Andrew Considine for Peter Pawlett the attacks continued and Markel Bergara grazed the crossbar with a thumping shot before the Dons gifted Real possession only for substitute Sergio Canales to shoot straight at Langfield.
His aim was better with 68 minutes played when he picked up possession 25 yards from goal and sent in a powerful left-footed effort which sailed past the beaten Langfield.
Trouble. Big trouble for Aberdeen with the game lost it was now damage limitation time.
Nicky Low and David Goodwillie were brought on in place of Rooney and Barry Robson as McInnes tried to stop the flood of chances but Real were attacking at will and after Langfield did well to block Finnbogason’s close range shot, Inigo rose highest to power in a header from the resultant corner but his effort crashed off the bar and down but did not cross the line despite heated protests.