Christian Ramirez still looks every minute of the extensive effort Stephen Glass has invested in securing his signature on a two-year contract.
After an uneven 90 minutes in which momentum shifted back and forth, the American’s clinical double finally saw Aberdeen reach next week’s second leg in Pittodrie, taking a vital advantage in their Conference League quest. For Ramirez, four goals from his first four appearances in the red is a very encouraging introduction.
The former Houston Dynamo forward struck in the first three minutes, then again in the second half after Glass made a daring triple half-time change and changed formation. In between, Lewis Ferguson doubled Aberdeen’s lead before Breidablik tied the score again at halftime.
Glass eventually got a reward for his tactical bravery. Looking ahead, and with Ramirez in this form, they should be confident that they will get the job done to reach the playoff 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 promises of this much-altered squad.
They showed signs of defensive vulnerability as they wobbled in the first half, but Scott Brown and young Calvin Ramsay were among those who stepped forward to keep the chances of progression in their favor.
Kopavogsvollur, the home of Breidablik with a capacity of 3,000 people, is deemed not to meet UEFA standards for this stage of a competition, meaning this match has been moved five miles down the road to the national stadium in Reykjavik.
The move disappointed the host’s manager, Oskar Hrafn Thorvaldsson, but no doubt came as good news for Glass. In addition to removing Breidablik from the familiar environment, it meant playing on a grass pitch instead of an artificial pitch.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER REVIEWS
LETTER CAN (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.
Subscribers not used: Helgason, Mikkelsen, Bragason, Margeirsson, Gudbjargarson, Gislason, Robertsson, Jonson, Thorsteinsson. Booked: Vilhjalmsson, Muminovic, Ingvarsson.
ABERDEN (4-4-2): Lewis6; 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).
Subscribers 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 for within 11 minutes, they thrived on the accuracy of Ramsay’s right foot and some clever thinking in corners.
The opener came from an expertly executed routine. Ramsay found the perfect weight with a low delivery that was reduced in the space in front of the front pillar. Ramirez peeled around 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 quality finish was still needed. Ramirez did not disappoint with a powerful first connection that flew past Breidablik goalkeeper Anton Ari Einarsson.
There was a simpler but no less effective construction to the second goal. Delivering again from Aberdeen’s right, Ramsay this time went with a floating corner.
Ferguson watched it the whole time, soaring high and sending a great header into the top corner of the net. Aberdeen flew. But Breidablik soon snapped their wings. The Icelanders shook off their early disorientation and began to show how they had overcome Austria Vienna on the final lap.
Their comeback was aided by a rather weak defense. Ross McCrorie got into a mess before being caught off guard by Arni Vilhjalmsson at the byeline. The attacker managed to force the ball in front of the goal from a lying position, knocking Gisli Eyjolfsson home.
That 16th minute lift changed the whole tone by half. Aberdeen made a slick move that led Funso to test Ojo Einarsson, but their early check had slipped.
Croatian referee Ivan Bebek occasionally did not help. He didn’t trade after a few thumping challenges on Ramirez, but booked Ramsay for the softest offences.
Then, two minutes before half time, Bebek awarded the hosts a penalty after the Dons were again undone by their own mistakes.
McCrorie was dragged wide after Breidablik exploited the space behind Ramsay. The retreating teenager slipped as the ball was played in, triggering an Andy Considine challenge on Vilhjalmsson.
Considine claimed he got a light touch on the ball. He may have had a case, but Bebek ignored the complaints as he pointed to the spot. Vilhjalmsson balanced it by sending Joe Lewis the wrong way.
You felt something had to change for Aberdeen to get some energy back into their performance. Few had predicted a triple substitution at halftime.
There 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 re-took the lead within four minutes of the restart.
McLennan made an excellent impact up front, taking a great first touch to control a long pass over the top before setting a low score for Ramirez. The striker went with his left foot this time but the result was the same. Another sharp finish was propelled past Einarsson.
It wasn’t perfect from then on, but Aberdeen avoided any repetition of their early fear. Ojo could have extended the lead, but couldn’t buy enough on a late header.