Sam Cosgrove scored a hat-trick as rampant Aberdeen earned a Europa League third qualifying round date with Rijeka by easing past Chikhura of Georgia.
With the tie poised at 1-1, Cosgrove finished two fine early moves to calm any home nerves, netting a deflected shot then a close-range diving header.
Debutant Greg Leigh and Scott Wright stretched the lead after the interval.
And Cosgrove completed his treble – and the home rout – with a wonderfully cute finish in the 80th minute.
The margin of victory is Aberdeen’s biggest in Europe since thrashing Daugava Riga of Latvia by the same scoreline in 2014.
Derek McInnes’ men faced Rijeka at the second-round stage four years ago, winning 5-2 on aggregate. The first leg takes place in Croatia next Thursday, with the return fixture a week later.
Aberdeen strike note of encouragement
The Georgians had taken a punishing and arduous route to Scotland’s north east – a flight from their homeland to Doha, another plane to Edinburgh, then a bus to their final destination.
Any team would struggle to deliver their best stuff after so draining a journey. And even had they brought their A-game, Chikhura would have been up against it, what with the overwhelming tempo and accuracy of their hosts.
Aberdeen attacked with vigour and precision, their midfield swarming Chikhura in possession and exploding through them with a blend of dynamic galloping runs and polished distribution.
The triumvirate spearheading that effort – Niall McGinn, Ryan Hedges and Jon Gallagher – fizzed forward with menace, driving into unguarded pockets of space where they were found with clever passes from Lewis Ferguson and Funso Ojo, sitting behind them. It was a devastating blend and an appetising snapshot for the sizeable home crowd.
All three played a part in Cosgrove’s brilliant ninth-minute opener, Hedges surging towards the box and finding McGinn, McGinn sliding in Gallagher, and Gallagher knocking it to the big striker left of centre, 12 yards out. Cosgrove chopped back on to his right foot, and whacked a deflected shot beyond Hamzic.
Eleven minutes later, it was 2-0. Another lovely move clinically dispatched by Cosgrove. This time, Shay Logan lofted a ball down the right for the haring Ferguson, who delicately crossed it first-time. Thundering in to stoop and nod past Hamzic was Cosgrove.
The Englishman was hardly prolific when he rocked up here last January – a single English League Two goal his only in senior football – but how he has flourished under McInnes. On Thursday, he took his Aberdeen tally to 27 goals in 48 outings, 25 of them coming in his last 32, and became the first player since 70-year-old club great Drew Jarvie to score in four consecutive European ties.
The onslaught continued unabated after the break. Ferguson used Cosgrove’s dummy run to mask an exquisite cross for the rising Leigh. Then replacement Wright caressed one into the net after the excellent Gallagher stole back possession with a perfect sliding challenge and set his team-mate scampering through on Hamzic.
The coup de grace, however, belonged to Cosgrove. The towering forward slalomed his way into the box, and clipped home a delicious shot with the outside of his right foot. That took his season’s haul to six goals in four games already. In this kind of form, and with this sort of service, Cosgrove is a serious weapon.
McInnes still has the likes of Craig Bryson, Connor McLennan, Mikey Devlin, Curtis Main, James Wilson and Ash Taylor waiting in the wings or working their way back from injuries. This was a hugely encouraging night for the Aberdeen manager – entertaining, effervescent and utterly emphatic – as his team took another step towards their ultimate goal of the group stage.
‘Sparkling’ display from newcomers – analysis
Former Aberdeen captain and manager Willie Miller on BBC Radio Scotland.
McInnes had to find new faces, new quality in the close season and he’s certainly done that. We have to remember it’s really early in the season. It’s only been two home games to look at but they’ve both been sparkling and really positive. The newcomers all look to be of high quality.