The Tangerines bounced back from their 4-0 defeat to Inverness last weekend to record a creditable 1-1 draw in Athens, although they went out 2-1 on aggregate.

Jon Daly scored with 12 minutes remaining to cancel out Papa Bouba Diop's opener and give the Clydesdale Bank Premier League side hope of sneaking it with an away goal.

Substitute Danny Swanson missed a great chance towards the end to send United through but despite the European adventure being over Houston was happy with his men's work.

He said: "I'm proud of the players after that performance. We were fantastic in the second half and outplayed AEK.

"They are an experienced side and we will learn so much from this.

"Danny Swanson is in there gutted that he's not scored because it would have won us the match.

"I think another five or 10 minutes and we would have won it because we had so much energy and they were tired.

"I think it was their players who were desperate to hear the final whistle."

United lost a cheap goal when Sean Dillon gave away a needless corner kick but they rallied well and Houston insists his players did themselves proud.

He said: "We showed them too much respect to start with and the goal we gave away was very cheap.

"After they scored we stepped it up a bit and our young legs showed.

"I am so proud of the players and they will keep progressing because they are a young team.

"I look back to the first leg now, where we didn't really turn up.

"We had a great chance that night with Jon Daly but we didn't score - if we had things could have been very different."

The United boss also praised the club's travelling support, who cheered the team on from start to finish at the Karaiskaki Stadium - home of AEK's deadly rivals Olympiakos - with no home fans present because of security fears.

He said: "The fans were fantastic. They cheered us from the first minute to the last.

"The players are desperately disappointed they have not won.

"We gave them a much better performance than we did on Sunday and I'm pleased we gave them something to cheer.

"The boys did themselves and the club proud."

AEK manager Dusan Bajevic claimed before the game that the fans lock-out would not affect his men - but admits the eerie atmosphere knocked them out of their stride.

The Bosnian felt United had penned his team back in the second half and was relieved to progress.

He said: "I said the other day that the events of the week would not give us an excuse.

"But I have to admit playing in the empty stadium was a problem.

"We started well and played good football in the first half.

"But in the second half Dundee United pressed us and we didn't pass the ball well.

"It was a hard game in the end but the main thing is we are through and we will celebrate now."