The European adventure is over for another season for Aberdeen.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Derek McInnes’ Dons bowed out of the Europa League with a 1-1 draw at home against Kazakhstan side Kairat.
Gerard Gohou, Kairat’s free-scoring forward, struck the decisive goal just before the hour mark to put a memorable comeback in front of a sold-out Pittodrie beyond the Dons.
Kenny McLean, with his fourth goal in five games, equalised with five minutes to go but the Reds could not find another that would have forced extra time.
A frustrating evening but the Dons will be able to take plenty of heart from their Europa League campaign in which they overcame Macedonian side Shkendija and Croatia’s HNK Rijeka.
A Kairat side which included a Champions League winner in former Bayern Munich midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk proved a step too far but the Dons can be proud of their efforts.
Kenny McLean’s crucial away goal in Almaty had given the Dons supporters the belief they could overturn the 2-1 deficit from last Thursday’s first leg and they flooded into Pittodrie in the hope of witnessing a famous European triumph.
It was a complete sell-out with 10,000 flags handed out to help create a colourful atmosphere, with the hosts roared on by a noisy support.
The Dons made four alterations from Sunday’s 1-0 success at Dundee United with Ryan Jack, Niall McGinn, Peter Pawlett and David Goodwillie reinstated at the expense of Paul Quinn, Willo Flood, Cammy Smith and Adam Rooney, who all dropped to the bench.
Kairat had endured a lengthy 3,415-mile trip to Aberdeen from Kazakhstan, which included stops in Belgium and Russia, but they were boosted by the return of their prolific forward Gerard Gohou, who had missed the first leg with a knee injury.
It was almost one o’clock in the morning in Kazakhstan when the game kicked off but the visitors looked bright and breezy with Gohou testing Danny Ward in the opening 20 seconds with a low left-footed effort.
After a half-hearted appeal for an Aberdeen penalty for an apparent handball by Mikhail Bakaev was waved away, the Dons had a fortuitous escape.
Stanislav Lunin was sent racing through on goal with only Ward to beat after Kairat caught the Dons with a swift counter but the attacking midfielder’s weak attempt was comfortably dealt with by Ward.
The Dons had a second, louder claim for a penalty soon after when Pawlett tumbled in the area after colliding with Yermek Kuantayev but again Czech referee Miroslav Zelinka was unmoved.
There were some robust challenges from the Kazakh side with Zelinka producing a couple of early bookings to restore order before Jonny Hayes went close with a curling effort that bounced just past the post.
Kairat continued to look capable of causing problems whenever they entered the final third with Ward making another smart stop to gather Mikhail Bakaev’s long-range strike.
The Dons were also looking threatening in attack but they could find no way past a well-organised defence as an engrossing first 45 minutes ended goalless.
Derek McInnes would have been the happier of the two managers at the interval with Kairat’s ill-discipline likely to have been a cause for concern for his counterpart Vladimir Weiss.
The Dons made a promising start to the second period but McGinn was unable to steer home Shaleum Logan’s inviting back-post delivery.
The natives were becoming slightly restless as Kairat, who looked much better with the ball than without, tried to slow the match down at every opportunity, knowing a 0-0 draw would be enough to take them through to the next round.
Most of Aberdeen’s best chances were falling to McGinn but the Northern Ireland international was struggling to find his range, slicing two shots high and wide in quick succession.
Then disaster struck for the Dons.
Bakaev was afforded too much room on the edge of the area to unload a powerful effort which was too hot for Ward to hold and Gohou was quickest to react and turn the loose ball home.
The Dons now needed two just to force extra time and could not afford to concede another.
There was nothing to lose for Aberdeen now as McInnes threw on another forward with Pawlett making way for Rooney.
But it was defender Logan who went close to restoring parity with a sizzling drive that was gathered by Kairat stopper Vladimir Plotnikov.
Kairat remained keen to push forward when they could and Ward did well to thwart Brazilian attacker Isael.
There was another let-off for Aberdeen as precious seconds ticked away when substitute Serginho volleyed the ball off the crossbar.
But Aberdeen set up a thrilling finale with five minutes to go when McLean pounced upon some hesitant Kairat defending to turn home a McGinn free kick.
But, sadly for Aberdeen, there would be no fairytale ending on this occasion.