Christian Ramirez continues to look worth every minute of the extensive effort Stephen Glass invested in securing his signature on a two-year contract.
After an uneven 90 minutes which saw momentum shift back and forth, the American’s clinical double ultimately ensured Aberdeen head into next week’s second leg at Pittodrie holding a vital advantage in their Conference League quest. For Ramirez, four goals from his first four appearances in red counts as a highly encouraging introduction.
The former Houston Dynamo forward struck inside the opening three minutes, then again in the second half after Glass had made a bold triple half-time change and switched formation. In between times, Lewis Ferguson doubled Aberdeen’s lead before Breidablik surged back to draw level at the break.
In the end, Glass gained reward for his tactical bravery. Looking ahead, and with Ramirez in this form, they should feel confident of completing the job to reach the play-off round. A 1-1 draw between AEL Limassol and FK Qarabag last night leaves the identity of their potential next opponent in doubt.
Aberdeen now face a trip to Livingston in the Premiership on Sunday as they look to grow the early seeds of promise from this much-changed squad.
They showed signs of defensive fragility during their first half wobble, but Scott Brown and young Calvin Ramsay were among those who stepped forward to help keep odds of progression very much in their favour.
Breidablik’s 3,000-capacity home ground, Kopavogsvollur, is deemed not to meet UEFA standards for this stage of a competition, meaning this fixture was moved five miles along the road to the national stadium in Reykjavik.
The switch disappointed the hosts’ manager Oskar Hrafn Thorvaldsson but unquestionably came as good news to Glass. Beyond removing Breidablik from familiar surroundings, it meant playing on a grass surface rather than an artificial one.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
BRIEDABLIK (4-4-2): Einarsson 6; Gunnlaugsson 6, Muminovic 5, Margeirsson 5, Invgarsson 6; Einarsson 6, Sigurdardson 6 (Atlason 88), Sigurjonsson 6 (Yeoman 82), Eyjolfsson 7 (Mikkelsen 82); Steindorsson 6 (Svanthorsson 65), Vilhjalmsson 7.
Subs not used: Helgason, Mikkelsen, Bragason, Margeirsson, Gudbjargarson, Gislason, Robertsson, Jonson, Thorsteinsson. Booked: Vilhjalmsson, Muminovic, Ingvarsson.
ABERDEEN (4-4-2): Lewis 6; Ramsay 7 (Gurr 65), McCrorie 5, Considine 6, MacKenzie 7; Ojo 6, Brown 7, Ferguson 6 (McGeough 46), Hayes 5 (McLennan 46); Emmanuel-Thomas 5 (Gallagher 46), Ramirez 8 (Hedges 83).
Subs not used: McGinn, Jenks, Campbell, Woods, Ruth, Ritchie, Hancock.
Booked: Ramsay, Gurr.
Man of the Match: Christian Ramirez.
Referee: Ivan Bekec (Croatia).
Initially, Aberdeen looked very comfortable. Two goals up inside 11 minutes, they thrived off the accuracy of Ramsay’s right foot and some clever thinking at corners.
The opener came from an expertly-worked routine. Ramsay found the perfect weight with a low delivery cut back into space ahead of the front post. Ramirez peeled round the back of the central group of players, with Brown doing just enough to block the striker’s marker.
So far, so good but a finish of quality was still needed. Ramirez didn’t disappoint with a powerful first-time connection that flew beyond Breidablik goalkeeper Anton Ari Einarsson.
There was a simpler but no less effective construction to the second goal. Again delivering from Aberdeen’s right, Ramsay this time went with a floated corner.
Ferguson watched it all the way, rising high to direct a terrific header into the top corner of the net. Aberdeen were flying. But Breidablik soon clipped their wings. Shaking off their early disorientation, the Icelanders began to show how they had overcome Austria Vienna in the last round.
Their comeback was aided by some pretty feeble defending. Ross McCrorie got into a mess before being outmuscled by Arni Vilhjalmsson at the byeline. The attacker managed to force the ball across the face of goal from a prone position, with Gisli Eyjolfsson knocking home.
That 16th minute lift changed the whole tone of the half. Aberdeen produced a slick move that led to Funso Ojo testing Einarsson but their early control had slipped away.
Croatian referee Ivan Bebek didn’t help at times. He didn’t act over a couple of thumping challenges on Ramirez, yet booked Ramsay for the softest of fouls.
Then, two minutes before the break, Bebek awarded the hosts a penalty after the Dons were again undone by their own errors.
McCrorie was dragged wide after Breidablik exploited space behind Ramsay. The retreating teenager slipped when the ball was played inside, leading to an Andy Considine challenge on Vilhjalmsson.
Considine claimed he got a slight touch on the ball. He may have had a case, but Bebek ignored the complaints as he pointed to the spot. Vilhjalmsson levelled it up by sending Joe Lewis the wrong way.
You felt something had to change for Aberdeen to get some energy back into their performance. Few would have predicted a triple half-time substitution.
Off came Ferguson, Jonny Hayes and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who had offered little up front. Declan Gallagher, Dylan McGeouch and Connor McLennan were introduced. The formation was shifted to 3-5-2 and Aberdeen regained the lead within four minutes of the restart.
McLennan made an excellent impact up front, taking a terrific first touch to control a long pass over the top before delivering low for Ramirez. The striker went with his left foot this time but the outcome was the same. Another crisp finish was propelled beyond Einarsson.
It wasn’t perfect from there on, but Aberdeen avoided any repeat their early anxiety. Ojo could have increased the lead but couldn’t get enough purchase on a late header.