Dons boss Stephen Glass stressed he could not underestimate how big a loss Andy Considine is to the club.
Qarabag’s ruthless attacking display went a long way to emphasising the defender’s importance to his team as they sent the Dons crashing out of the Conference League at Pittodrie.
A 3-1 win for the Azerbaijan side at Pittodrie secured a 4-1 aggregate victory as Aberdeen’s hopes of qualification for the groups were shattered.
Aberdeen, on their 150th European tie, were shorn of the services of the longest-serving player in the squad following Considine’s cruciate ligament injury in the 149th match.
With Considine recovering from surgery it was left to Ross McCrorie and Declan Gallagher to hold the fort in central defence, assisted by rookie full backs Calvin Ramsay and Jack Mackenzie.
The stakes, in European terms, were the highest they have been in 14 years with the group stages of a tournament within touching distance for the first time since 2007.
The experience of Considine, who was part of the squad which enjoyed a memorable run to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup before being eliminated by Bayern Munich in 2008, would have been invaluable for the visit of Qarabag.
After witnessing the manner in which the Dons were exposed defensively without their talismanic defensive stalwart, it is clear which area is in need of reinforcements before the transfer window closes on Tuesday.
The back four will not face sides of the quality of Qarabag on a regular basis but that should not mask the fact this was a night where painful lessons were learned.
It is easy to single out the defence for this result but collectively Aberdeen were well beaten in every department.
Christian Ramirez was isolated in attack, which meant the Dons press was breached with ease. The midfield of the Dons was overrun by the visitors. Combine those two factors with poor defending and it all added up to a perfect storm for Glass and his players.
The Aberdeen fans had come out for this tie and they were in terrific voice as they hoped to help make the landmark game an occasion to remember but, following a bright start from the Dons, Qarabag landed not one but two sucker punches.
It was the simplicity of it which stood out as Abdellah Zoubir drove forward before cutting the ball back to Tural Bayramov. Gallagher came across but could not close the distance quick enough as Bayramov beat Joe Lewis with a low diagonal shot.
A tough task had become a mountain to climb for the Dons and Qarabag should have doubled their lead almost immediately when Abbas Huseynov beat Mackenzie down the right before crossing to Kady, but he failed to convert what would have been a tap-in from inside the six-yard box.
The goal and the miss should have jolted the Dons into life but it did not. It got worse, much worse as this tie was effectively ended in the 18th minute.
McCrorie was the initial culprit as his slack ball was intercepted by Jaime Romero. He passed the ball to Zoubir who raced towards goal and as the Aberdeen defence parted like the Red Sea Zoubir slid the ball through to Kady who fired past Lewis.
The Qarabag substitutes in front of the Merkland Stand raced onto the pitch to celebrate with their team-mates. You would have thought they had been on the pitch for the goals given the manner in which the Azerbaijan side had cut through the Dons.
Suddenly, that passionate volume had been replaced by jeers and with good reason. Aberdeen, collectively, were all over the place and the fans knew this tie was done and dusted.
Aberdeen fans hoping for second half fightback from their team were left disappointed.
The game reached the hour mark before Qarabag goalkeeper Shakhrudin Magomedaliyev was called into action for the first time as he dived low to his right to parry a Jonny Hayes shot away.
The visitors, for their part, did not carry the same attacking threat of the opening 45 minutes but they still managed to dismantle the Dons defence one last time to seal an emphatic win in the 72nd minute.
Predictably, it was all so easy as Kady played the ball forward to Zoubir, who ran forward at pace. With Ramsay and Gallagher backing off, the striker needed no further encouragement and he duly fired the ball low past Lewis to put the gloss on a terrific away performance.
Lewis Ferguson’s injury time penalty, after Ramsay was fouled by Richard Almeida, at least gave those still in the ground something to cheer, but overall from an Aberdeen point of view this was painful, morale-sapping stuff.
The play-off round first leg will be remembered as the game where Aberdeen lost a key player to a serious injury on a dreadful pitch.
The second leg should be remembered as a steep learning curve for Glass’ team against an opponent as slick at the Pittodrie surface.