Falkirk were swept out of the Scottish League Cup by a combination of attacking zeal, furious industry, and stylish endeavour. "It was men against boys at times," admitted Gary Holt, the Falkirk manager.
Aberdeen could tot up the achievements: this was their fifth clean sheet in a row, the average age of the starting line up was only 22, and Scott Vernon has now scored four goals in just 80 minutes of play. Beyond the clever, insightful performances of Ryan Jack, Cammy Smith and Nicky Low - three young midfielders of clear promise - it was reaching the quarter-finals that was most significant to Aberdeen. With Celtic and Rangers knocked out of the competition, the Pittodrie club are now at the forefront of the challengers.
"It was brilliant," said Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager. "The players deserve tremendous credit and at the heart of it was an appetite to work hard. We were in complete control, and passed up a lot of chances. Everybody who's left in the competition will now see it as an opportunity."
There was no early room for contemplation. It was such a frantic opening period that Calvin Zola fitted his entire match into 32 minutes. In that time, the striker was booked, had one effort blocked by a desperate Jonathan Flynn block, another header cleared off the line, and then he engaged in a series of reckless challenges, prompting McInnes to withdraw the striker. "We didn't want to run the risk of him being sent off," the manager explained. "But I thought that there were a lot of bad decisions against Calvin."
Zola had already been surpassed as Aberdeen's most prominent player, though. Joe Shaughnessy has been developing a reputation as a defender of impressive potential, but he influenced this game in attack. A long throw into the Falkirk penalty area resulted in the ball landing at the Irishman's feet, and he drilled a left-foot shot past Michael McGovern in the Falkirk goal.
Shaughnessy was emblematic of his team. His confidence was pronounced, and a volley from another long throw was audacious and assured. On this occasion, though, Stephen Kingsley cleared off the line. Even so, neither Aberdeen nor Shaughnessy could be quelled, and the full-back rose powerfully to head a Johnny Hayes cross down into Smith's path. The 17-year-old showed impressive poise to finish powerfully and accurately beyond McGovern.
Falkirk seemed shellshocked, and Holt stood motionless on the touchline as the teams left the field for the interval. There was little optimism for him to dwell upon. It was already a humbling experience, even before Vernon found his range. The striker had replaced Zola, but it took him a while to deliver the same kind of impact on the game. It turned out to be more meaningful and effective when it arrived, though. He had already had one effort saved after he slid in at the back post to convert Clark Robertson's flick on.
The goal was testament to Vernon's instincts, which had carried him into the most dangerous place inside the penalty area. He did not fall into a sense of satisfaction, though, since two minutes later he was in the right position to react to the rebound when Smith's shot was saved by McGovern, and the Falkirk goalkeeper could only watch in frustration as the striker fired into an unguarded net.
The home side could only try to cling on to their self-respect. Their mood was grim as well as resigned, and there appeared to be a flash of exasperation as Will Vaulks brought Peter Pawlett to the ground inside the penalty area. The Aberdeen midfielder had shown deft skill and movement to carry the ball beyond the Falkirk defender, and the foul was blunt. Vernon converted the penalty with powerful assurance.
"Aberdeen did a job on us and it was a sore one," said Holt. "We didn't handle the occasion well, we were nervous. We stood off them and let them play."
The only fraught moment during the entire occasion for the away support was when a group of them collapsed over an advertising hoarding as they celebrated with Vernon and his team-mates. They recovered their wits soon enough, and ended the night singing "bring on the Morton", after the Championship side knocked Celtic out of the competition the night before.