Aberdeen’s return to the group stage of European football after a 16-year wait ended in defeat but the performance could be the catalyst for a recovery in domestic form.
The Dons were edged out 2-1 by Bundesliga giants Eintracht Frankfurt in a Europa Conference League Group G opener in Germany.
Ranked as 25-1 underdogs for the clash the Dons fell just short of overturning the odds to shock the 2022 Europa League winners.
However manager Barry Robson’s reconstructed squad, with 13 signings in the summer, more than held their own inside the raucous 58,000-capacity Deutsche Bank Park.
Playing Eintracht Frankfurt away will be the toughest clash of a group that also includes PAOK (Greece) and HJK Helsinki (Finland).
Albeit a defeat, with this performance, Aberdeen gave indication that they could make an impact in this group.
The Dons hauled themselves up from a dismal start to their domestic campaign to come out fighting in Germany.
Boss Robson said before the match that he believed his team could impose themselves in Germany and get a result.
In light of the poor domestic form it is doubtful many of the 2,900-strong travelling Red Army would have held that same optimism as boss Robson.
The Dons didn’t get a result but they did make their presence felt in a clash many feared could result in a heavy defeat.
More trepidation than anticipation
Aberdeen fans will have descended on Deutsche Bank Park more in trepidation than anticipation.
The Reds had won just one of eight games in all competitions this season prior to the trip to Germany for the Group G clash.
This is the stage Aberdeen have spent more than a decade trying to return to – and now they are finally in the groups again for the first time since the 2007-08 UEFA Cup.
And they played like a team determined to make an impact in the groups.
Striker Duk dropped to the bench
Aberdeen boss Barry Robson made two changes to the side that lost 2-0 at Hearts.
Striker Duk was dropped to the bench with Dante Polvara coming in.
In red-hot form last season, Duk netted 18 goals in all competitions but has yet to score this campaign.
Four months ago dropping Duk would have been a controversial call – but the striker’s recent form suggested it was inevitable.
In the other change James McGarry dropped to the bench with Jack MacKenzie coming in.
For all Eintracht Frankfurt’s possession it was Aberdeen who created the first chance when a poor clearance fell to Richard Jensen.
However the defender’s low shot was blocked by Hrvoje Smolcic.
Polvara repays Robson’s faith with stunning goal
From that move the Bundesliga side rapidly raced upfield.
Junior Dina Ebimbe broke into the box and was clumsily brought down by MacKenzie.
It was a clear penalty.
Omar Marmoush sent Kelle Roos the wrong way with a low drive to convert the spot-kick and condemn the Dons to a nightmare start in Germany in the 11th minute.
To their credit the Dons did not buckle or panic when faced with the unwanted combination of conceding early and their poor domestic form.
Instead Aberdeen hit back with a superb goal fit to grace the European stage.
A sweeping, rapid move ignited when a poor pass from Ellyes Skhiri was intercepted and Bojan Miovski reacted quickly to find the overlapping Nicky Devlin on the right.
Devlin swung in a low cross and Dante Polvara took a touch with his left then rifled in a sensational right-footed drive into the roof of the net from 12 yards.
The jubilant Aberdeen fans erupted in joy. Eintracht Frankfurt’s raucous fans were briefly silenced.
It was a deserved leveller.
In the 44th minute Polvara again threatened when shooting sharply from 15 yards but keeper Kevin Trapp saved at his near post.
Koch heads Eintracht Frankfurt ahead
At half-time Eintracht Frankfurt boss Toppmoller replaced Mario Gotze with Fares Chaibi.
Frankfurt’s talismanic attacking midfielder Gotze, who scored the winner in Germany’s World Cup final win in 2014, was marshalled well by the Reds’ defence.
Eintracht Frankfurt regained the lead in the 61st minute when Robin Koch rose to meet a Fares Chaibi corner.
Koch eluded his marker and directed a 10-yard glancing header beyond Roos into the far corner.
In the 77th minute substitute Ansgar Knauff shot powerfully at goal but keeper Roos did well to save.
Deep into injury time the ball fell to Ester Sokler 12 yards out but he volleyed across goal and wide to end Aberdeen’s hopes of taking a point from their opening match.
ABERDEEN (5-4-1): Roos 7; Devlin 7, Gartenmann 7, Rubesic 7, Jensen 7, MacKenzie 6; Polvara 7 (Hayes 71), Shinnie 7 (Duncan 71), Clarkson 7 (Barron 71 ), McGrath 7 (Sokler 77); Miovski 6 (Duk 57).
Subs not used: Doohan, Gueye, McGarry, Williams, MacDonald, Milne, Dadia.
EINTRACHT FRANKFURT (3-4-3): Trapp 6; Smolcic 6, Koch 7, Pacho 7; Dina Ebimbe 7, Rode 4 (Larsson 38), Skhiri 7, Nkounkou 7 (Knauff 67); Aaronson 6, Marmoush 7 (Buta 82), Gotze 5 (Chaibi 46).
Subs not used: Grahl, Ngankam, Hasebe, Chandler, Hauge, Tuta, Baum, Ferri.
Referee: Chrysovalantis Theouli (Cyprus)
Man-of-the-match: Dante Polvara (Aberdeen)