Having not had much of a summer break, Aberdeen last night booked themselves a restful jaunt to Latvia.
Any concerns they had about negotiating a way past FK Daugava Riga were washed away in a ruthless exploitation of their desperately poor visitors. Pittodrie revelled in a win which was far easier than most of their fans expected. The second leg in Riga next week was reduced to a formality and Aberdeen will be in the Europa League second qualifying round against Groningen.
Shay Logan, Niall McGinn, Jonny Hayes and Adam Rooney scored the goals and it had been many a year since Pittodrie witnessed Aberdeen controlling a European game as thoroughly as they did this one. Daugava were awful and had one man sent off in the 56th minute and another in the 80th, none of which detracted from an impressive home display. The tie was the first European fixture of Derek McInnes' managerial career and he will never have a smoother one.
Logan buried a diving header after 33 minutes of uninterrupted Aberdeen pressure and missed chances. McGinn doubled the lead when he scored at the second attempt early in the second half. When Rooney scored a penalty Aberdeen had the 3-0 lead which killed the tie. Hayes stuck away a volley for a fourth and Rooney scored again from close range in stoppage time. Daugava's heads were down by then and their game had deteriorated into petty fouling and damage limitation. Jamie Langfield, the Aberdeen goalkeeper, barely touched the ball.
A bright, warm evening in the north-east - and the return of European football for the first time since 2009 - drew over 15,000 to Pittodrie. They were entitled to feel a little nervous about their team's readiness, after a month off and without prior competitive action, but any stress soon eased. Aberdeen were bright, hungry and sharp. They were quicker than Daugava, who finished fourth in their league last season and are seventh at the moment, and soon showed themselves to be far superior.
They made space for themselves, they opened up Daugava, they pinged cross after cross behind or over their back four, and after fluffing their opportunities for half an hour they steamrollered them. Before they had anything to show for their pressure there was comfort from the fact the Latvians were so obviously limited. The half-way line was the extent of their ambition and they barely crossed it.
Generally Aberdeen looked like the team well into their domestic season, not Daugava. Barry Robson was excellent on the right of midfield and Willo Flood and Ryan Jack were perky and diligent behind him. Peter Pawlett made a couple of terrific bursting runs which took him past defenders before he took a knock to an ankle and went off. A breakthrough seemed inevitable when Valdemar Borovskij gave Rooney a shove in the back as he tried to reach a Robson cross. It did not look much of an offence but the French referee gave a penalty. Robson's kick was low to Emiljus Zubas's left but the goalkeeper saved it and blocked Rooney's follow-up.
Aberdeen were convincing. They controlled possession and the tempo of the play and had no problem flinging balls into the Daugava penalty box. Rooney will kick himself for not scoring at least a hat trick. If McGinn's finishing had been sharper he would have had more than one as well.
Vitalijs Zils got his marching orders nine minutes into the second half for a second booking and a red card. Aurimas Kucys copied him by getting sent off 10 minutes from the end. Another five of their team-mates - and Aberdeen's Rooney - were booked. The referee was card happy. Aberdeen were all smiles.