Aberdeen were relieved leaving their shooting boots at home did not cost them dear as they booked their place in the third qualifying round of the Conference League despite losing to BK Hacken in Sweden.
Following a goalless first half where Stephen Glass’ side squandered numerous chances, two goals midway through the second half threatened to turn a routine away game into a fraught finale until the Swedish side lost their composure to hand the initiative back to the Dons.
After hitting the heights on home soil seven days earlier this was a night which will hopefully serve as a timely reminder there is still much work to be done for the new-look Aberdeen despite their 5-3 aggregate win.
Aberdeen were unchanged following their 5-1 win at Pittodrie a week ago while Hacken manager Per-Mathias Hogmo made five changes from the team which lost heavily in the Granite City.
Hogmo’s pre-match confidence that this tie was not over despite the Dons’ four-goal advantage was evident from the first whistle as Benie Traore fired in a shot in the first minute which was blocked by Calvin Ramsay.
The anticipated early onslaught from the Swedes was in full display and they went close again in the fifth minute to an opener when midfielder Tobias Heintz’s curling effort hit the post.
It was one-way traffic towards the Aberdeen goal and it took until the ninth minute for the Dons to threaten with a 30-yard strike from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas easily held by Peter Abrahamsson.
The long range effort from the striker may have come to nothing but it helped the Dons grab a foothold in the game and the chances starting to flow for the visitors with Christian Ramirez firing one long range strike high and wide before just failing to connect with a cutback from close range.
Aberdeen were in firm control of proceedings by the midway point of the first half and it took a fine save from Abrahamsson to deny the Dons from opening the scoring as Scott Brown’s pass sent Ryan Hedges clear down the right and his cross found Emmanuel-Thomas who showed good control under pressure to get his shot away.
Emmanuel-Thomas then turned creator to play a terrific weighted ball through to Ramirez but the American’s shot was blocked by the Hacken goalkeeper.
It was clear as the minutes were ticking by Hacken’s self-belief was slowly eroding and it took another save from Abrahamsson in injury time at the end of the first half to keep out a Lewis Ferguson header.
A clash of heads ended Emmanuel-Thomas’ involvement at the start of the second half and he was replaced by Teddy Jenks.
The Brighton midfielder was on the pitch less than a minute, however, before Hacken opened the scoring.
A clever back-heel from Heintz sent full back Martin Olsson through on the goal and the former Blackburn Rovers, Swansea and Norwich defender fired past Joe Lewis to give his side the lead.
The lead should have been extinguished minutes later as a Dons break from a Hacken corner ended with Ramirez squaring the ball for Funso Ojo but from six yards out the Belgian connect with nothing but fresh air with the goal at his mercy.
Hacken’s tails were up and they cut through the Dons defence again but substitute Nasiru Mohammed was denied by a terrific save from Lewis.
It had become tense and Dons boss Glass was booked for his comments from the touchline and his mood darkened further after seeing his side go 2-0 down.
Leo Bengtsson was tripped in the box by Lewis, prompting referee Adam Farkas of Hungary to point to the spot and show the Aberdeen goalkeeper a yellow card. Bengtsson stepped up to fire the penalty home to give his side hope.
Suddenly a straightforward tie had taken on element of danger for the Dons as their four-goal advantage had been halved and the hosts certainly fancied their chances again.
But Hacken’s excitement cost them dear as they were quickly reduced to 10 men when Patrik Walemark, who had been booked seconds earlier, earned a second yellow for a flailing elbow on substitute Jack Mackenzie.
Hacken’s desperation had led to them losing their discipline completely and it seemed the referee had lost control too as Declan Gallagher, warming up down the touchline, became the eighth caution of what had become a disjointed, messy affair.
But that suited Aberdeen’s cause fine. With Hacken seeing red Aberdeen came through a frantic game of nine bookings and a red card to progress to the next round.