Aberdeen surrendered the opportunity to seal a first European group-stage win in nearly 16 years as PAOK Salonika came from two goals down to snatch an astonishing Europa Conference League win at a shell-shocked Pittodrie.
Quickfire second-half goals from Bojan Miovski and Dante Polvara had a raucous crowd dreaming of a rare victory in continental competition.
However, that exuberance was extinguished as Kiril Despodov pulled one back after a Richard Jensen slip, before more poor defending allowed Vieirinha to slam home an equaliser.
And, after being denied a penalty of their own at 2-1 when Jack MacKenzie went down in the box, Aberdeen were punished at the death.
Slobodan Rubezic’s challenge on Magomed Ozdoev was subject to a VAR review and, after a spot-kick was awarded, Stefan Schwab rolled in with the final kick in the 96th minute to seal a remarkable comeback for the Greeks.
The defeat leaves Barry Robson’s side third in Group G, ahead on goal difference of a HJK Helsinki side who were battered by Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany.
The first half produced nothing close to the drama that would unfold in the second period, with the sides playing out a contest as drab as the conditions around them.
No matter how bleak things look for Aberdeen though, they know they have a striker who can make his mark out of nowhere. Once again, Miovski did just that.
A slick move down the left gave MacKenzie opportunity to slide over a delivery towards the North Macedonian, who took a touch before igniting bedlam with a composed finish.
Just as those home supporters had scraped themselves from the roof, they were once again in raptures.
A searing counter-attack saw the hosts go from box-to-box in the blink of an eye, with Miovski turning provider to slip in Polvara for a lofted finish and seemingly send Aberdeen on their way.
Any lingering anxiety was heightened when Jensen’s stumble allowed Despodov to tap home for the visitors, a spanner in the works on a night on which the hosts appeared to be in cruise control.
The nervous home crowd turned to VAR when MacKenzie was upended in the box, a sense of disbelief engulfing Pittodrie as play continued on.
It would be more calamitous defending that sucked the air out of the lungs as an unchallenged cross crept through to Vieirinha, whose deflected effort brought parity to a game that was once Aberdeen’s to claim.
A disappointing draw became a devastating defeat when VAR reared its head. Schwab’s composed finish leaving Aberdeen fans once again only with thoughts of what might have been on a European night.
Player of the match – Bojan Miovski (Aberdeen)
Continental collapse leaves Pittodrie waiting – analysis
There were just 18 minutes left to play when Aberdeen were two goals to the good and seemingly strolling to their first win in Group G.
Questions will be asked of the MacKenzie challenge, and plaudits will be given to aspects of the performance, but it is impossible to paint the outcome as anything other than a continental collapse.
When his side were in the ascendancy, Robson’s triple substitution appeared to knock the swaggering hosts off their stride. At this level, any misstep is punished.
Some home supporters will have felt they were witnessing the kind of display that saw Aberdeen saunter to victory over Copenhagen in December 2007.
After failing to hit those since-elusive heights, the wait goes on for a famous European night in a part of the world that longs for them dearly.
What they said
Aberdeen manager Barry Robson: “The boys were outstanding tonight. That’s a real top side. I’m just gutted for my boys and for the fans because we deserved to get a draw or even a win.
“They got it wrong once again [VAR]. It’s not even hard to get right. It’s happened to us in the past. I don’t know why it’s not been checked. I know the referee has come in and kicked his own door on the way in. I don’t know if that’s an indication that he knows he’s made a mistake? But he cost us tonight.
Aberdeen midfielder Dante Polvara: “The best part is we have a game on Sunday, it’s a quick turnaround, a must-win game in the league. We have to take confidence and pick ourselves up. We’ll get over it. We have to move on. That’s football.”
Aberdeen face old manager Derek McInnes as they head to Kilmarnock on Sunday (12:00 GMT) before a trip to Greece to face PAOK again on 9 November (19:45).