Looking ahead to TNS’ second-leg tie against Slovan Bratislava

A narrow first-leg deficit leaves The New Saints within touching distance of an extended European run. Tuesday night’s second-leg in Rhyl has an ‘all or nothing’ feel about it, as Welsh football holds its breath.

Last week’s UEFA draw added to the anticipation of Tuesday’s return leg at Belle Vue, Rhyl, with the winners of the TNS-Slovan Bratislava tie drawn against Moldovans Sheriff or Sutjeska of Montenegro (which Sheriff currently lead 2-0) in the Champions League third qualifying round.

Should TNS advance, they will again feel that they are on a competitive level with either of those sides and will also have the added bonus of dropping into the Europa League play-off round, should they be eliminated at that stage.

Better still and admittedly still a long way off, should TNS advance past Slovan Bratislava and the next round, they will be go into the Champions League play-off round where they will be a tie away from reaching the Champions League group stage, or at worst, a place in the Europa League group stage.

There is however, much to be done before we can even begin to consider the implications that would have on not just the club but the Welsh Premier League as a whole.

Although beaten, The New Saints will have left Slovakia having achieved their main objective to have kept the tie competitive for the home leg.

True, TNS rarely threatened the Slovan Bratislava goal last week but the Saints were able to keep themselves in the game, looking well-prepared, comfortable in possession and able to ride out spells of pressure from the hosts.

Bar the sporadic lapse in concentration, TNS looked well-drilled, fit and didn’t look out of place competing against the Slovakian champions.

Even the goal that settled the first-leg wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Paul Harrison will have been disappointed to have been beaten at his near post by the low finish of advancing full-back Erik Cikos, who had broken free to find space too easily.

Tuesday’s return leg calls for a different approach to last week’s defeat and in need of a goal, the Saints must show more attacking impetus as opposed to nullifying Slovan Bratislava. It is also vital that they can shut out the Slovaks, as an away goal at any stage for the visitors would virtually give them an unassailable lead.

The presence of injured Phil Baker was sorely missed in central defence in the first-leg and Craig Harrison and Carl Darlington must be hoping to be able to draft him back into the side. They must also mull over the decision whether to recall veteran Steve Evans into the back four after a lengthy injury lay-off has meant that the former Welsh international has not played a competitive game since last February.

I would like to see another of the returning TNS players to be given a start at Belle-Vue and if fit, Alex Darlington should be given more than his 46th-minute substitute appearance. The underrated Darlington is capable of linking-up midfield and attack, and is neat in possession with an eye for goal. His presence could give the Saints the spark that is needed to make the breakthrough.

I really hope that TNS can count on a packed Belle Vue to spur them on to victory. It is unfortunate that the club are having to play their home leg over an hour away from their Park Hall base and the Saints are, quite rightly, offering sensible reductions to season ticket holders and club members for tickets and travel but I fear that the club’s decision to price tickets at £20 could deter non-season ticket holders and local supporters in North Wales from showing their support. I sincerely hope I’m wrong on that one.

For full ticket information via the club you can click here.

Good luck once again to The New Saints. You can post your comments ahead of the game below or on Twitter @1matthewburgess

Live blog: Slovan Bratislava v The New Saints

Good afternoon. I’ve been contemplating trying this for a while so this evening I’m going to try and run a live blog right here for TNS’ Champions League second qualifying round, first-leg tie against Slovakian champions Slovan Bratislava.

I’ll be posting updates before and during the game (kick-off 5:45 GMT), which you can watch live on S4C/Sgorio and I believe there will be live updates live commentary(!) on BBC Radio Shropshire.

You can get involved by sharing your views through the comments section below or on Twitter, by contacting me directly @1matthewburgess or by using the hashtag #tnsliveblog. I will share your comments as I update the blog.

My blog from yesterday previewing the game is available here. This page will be continually updated throughout and if it works, then I may be come back to it again during the Welsh Premier League season.

*Refresh your browser for updates*

Well that’s me done and my evening is certainly better knowing that the tie is very much alive for the second-leg. Thanks to those who have followed the blog tonight. Maybe I’ll do it again sometime, in the meanwhile keep your comments coming here or via Twitter. Catch up with you soon!

Reaction:

Full-time: Slovan Bratislava 1-0 TNS It’s all over and Slovan Bratislava take a slender 1-0 lead to North Wales for next week’s second-leg. TNS will be disappointed with the goal they conceded but the hosts deserve their lead. The tie is very much still alive however, which would have been Craig Harrison and Carl Darlington’s main objective going into this game. The big question is, can they squeeze anymore out of this TNS side to cancel out the first-leg deficit?

91 minutes TNS almost gifted a goal. The Slovan keeper finds himself cut short in possession and narrowly pulls off a drag back to just get past Wilde before scrambling the ball away to safety. TNS look to have done enough to have kept this tie alive for next week’s second-leg at Belle Vue.

89 minutes Sam Finley comes of for veteran Scott Ruscoe, who makes his 300th TNS appearance. Slovan also make a change as Grendel replaces the disappointing Halenár.

88 minutes “Keep the door firmly slammed,” says Sgorio pundit Tomi Morgan. Quite.

84 minutes Draper stripped on the touchline and ready to come on, replacing Aeron Edwards, who appears to have picked up a strain. TNS seemingly going with two forwards meaning they will have lost some of their defensive shape with Edwards leaving the field. So important for TNS not to concede a second goal, they’re just starting to look a little heavy-legged.

81 minutes Alex Darlington becomes the second TNS player to be cautioned. It was a niggly foul and a sign of frustration but I don’t think he’s done too bad since coming on for the second-half. Good player and I’d like to see him start the second-leg. Brief moment of pinball deep inside the TNS goalmouth, the ball fizzes behind for a late corner.

75 minutes Wilde and Darlington attempt to combine as TNS attempt to become more of an attacking threat in the closing stages. An away goal would transform this tie. I’d like to see Greg Draper get on the field.

72 minutes First change for the Slovaks, captain Zoftak is replaced by Trinidad winger Peltier. Meanwhile, Seargeant concedes a dangerous looking free-kick, centrally from around 25-yards out, which Halenár drives against the wall.

68 minutes Best effort of the game for TNS! Darlington feeds the ball to Michael Wilde, who sends a powerful effort wide. Encouraging! Greg Draper warming up for the Saints, could he be about to come on?

65 minutes Milinkovic with a drive from distance but straight at Harrison. Under half-hour remaining and TNS yet to threaten the Slovan Bratislava goal. The hosts are looking comfortable.

59 minutes Harrison saves at the feet of Jablonsky, TNS under considerable pressure since Slovan took the lead. They really need to get Aeron Edwards and Sam Finley on the ball and dictate a bit. The Saints starting to get back into it but their possession is all in their own half and unchallenged with Slovan happy to sit back.

52 minutes GOAL! Erik Cikos puts Slovan Bratislava ahead. The right-back drifts past Matty Williams and beats Paul Harrison with a low near-post finish from outside the area. Harrison should’ve done better and it was all a bit too easy.

50 minutes Halenar finds just enough space fires a neat cut-back, while Soumar again threatens to carve TNS open at Rawlinson’s expense. Dicey start for the Saints.

48 minutes

Second-half Refreshed and ready to go – TNS are back out too. Surprised to see such a small crowd at this match but apparently Slovan Bratislava’s supporters are in dispute over a ground move. Anyway, one change for the Saints. Alex Darlington replaces Ryan Fraughan. Not naturally a wide-player but very neat and comfortable on the ball.

Slovan out-shot TNS 9-1 in the first-half, the hosts managing 3 attempts on target. No cautions for either side.

Half-time: Slovan 0-0 TNS Craig Harrison and Carl Darlington will be encouraged with this first-half which at times got a little nervy. Got a feeling the words ‘caution’ and ‘concentration’ will be used in the Saints’ dressing room at half-time.

40 minutes Jablonsky bombs forward into space from the left-back position and delivers an inviting low cross. There’s a foul in the process however and TNS win a timely free-kick. Slovan working the flanks, TNS dropping off and keeping a narrow shape when not in possession.

34 minutes Suicidal defending by Rawlinson but TNS are let off the hook. The defender cheaply loses possession and Slovan quickly work the ball into the box before Ford fires wide. That was close!

28 minutes A moment’s hesitancy inside the area almost proves costly for TNS. Harrison also does his bit to raise the blood pressure of the TNS dug-out dribbling around a Slovan forward to play the ball out of his box. Early indications are good here but concentration is absolutely vital.

19 minutes TNS are well accustomed to retaining possession but they need to be wary of doing so when playing so deep. Meanwhile Mark Jones apologises to ‘female football fans, who don’t like football throughout the whole year’. Not your finest comment in hindsight Jonah! That noise you can hear is the Sgorio production team cringing…

17 minutes Dangerous spell for the hosts, TNS need possession to take some of the sting out of the game. Harrison did well to save low down. Slovan definitely look like they’re capable of scoring. TNS need to build on their start and maintain focus.

14 minutes Possession seems to be split 50/50. Irrelevant, but does anyone else find Slovan’s ‘Nike’ sponsor on their Adidas shirts mildly amusing?

8 minutes Both teams playing a passing game. Sgorio commentator Mark Jones estimating that there’s just a 1,000 in attendance. TNS look to have settled well and are looking to supply Wilde down the flanks.

4 mins Slovan, as expected, seeing more of the ball. TNS looking to play out from the back. Both sides 4-2-3-1. The pitch looks ok, though Craig Harrison mentioned earlier this week that he felt the grass was fairly long.

17:41 The Pasienky Stadium certainly appears far from sold out. TNS sporting their usual colours, Slovan play in light blue ala Coventry City. Milinkovic starts wide right, will be interesting to see how TNS deal with him early on.

17:39 Don’t forget, commentary available in Welsh and English on Sgorio’s live TV coverage.

17:37 Much of TNS’ hopes in this away leg could rest on the performance of Sam Finley. He enjoyed an excellent season last year, where for me, he established himself as the best player in the WPL. A number of Championship clubs have been closely monitoring his progress and these European matches could possibly be his last games for The New Saints.

17:28 Just over 15-minutes to go until kick-off and the Edwards/Rawlinson partnership in central defence is going to be crucial this evening. TNS would’ve been contemplating going with the more experienced pairing of Baker and Evans. Edwards featured heavily last season but Rawlinson only made 11 WPL starts last season. A big test for the 22-year-old awaits.

17:17 If you’re wondering where TNS winger Chris Jones is, the former Swan is currently on trial at Newport County, according to the South Wales Argus.

17:14 Serbian number 11 Marko Milinkovic, very much the man to watch in the Slovan Bratislava side based on current form. He scored twice on the weekend and also scored the week before, in the Super Cup final. I expect Chris Seargeant to be given the responsibility of keeping him quiet. Interestingly, no Vittek in the line-up or on the bench.

17:11

17:09

17:07 No place in the TNS XI for Steve Evans or Phil Baker. Connell Rawlinson and Kye Edwards form a central-defensive partnership. Greg Draper will have to be content with a place on the bench as Michael Wilde gets the nod up-front. Matty Williams and Ryan Fraughan will provide the width, with the regular midfield trio of Christian Seargeant, Aeron Edwards and Sam Finley looking to control things.

17:03

17:01 First-team coach Carl Darlington has identified Slovakian international Robert Vittek as Slovan’s dangerman for this tie but believes the Saints can go into the game with confidence. “Over the past week the players have taken the opportunity to watch DVDs of their opponents in action and we are looking to the game with confidence,” he told the Border Counties Advertizer. Heopfully we’ll have some teamnews pretty soon. Steve Evans could make his return after missing most of last season through injury but there are doubt’s over fellow central defender Phil Baker. Jamie Mullan has already been ruled out through injury.

16:45 Well, if anyone is bold to make any predictions on tonight’s game, please get in touch and I’ll mention them here. Conditions in the Bratislava are warm and cloudy with the temperature currently at 27 degrees.

Can TNS use their WPL dominance to lift the European gloom?

Just a quick preview blog ahead of The New Saints’ Champions League qualifier out in Slovakia tomorrow against Slovan Bratislava (5.45, S4C).

What better way would there be to put last week’s thoroughly disappointing Europa League qualifying results behind us, than to see TNS advance from the Champions League second qualifying round?

The Saints, fresh from wrapping up their third-straight WPL championship, will be aiming to use their domestic dominance as a platform for European success and boy, does the league need it.

Crushing home defeats which saw Aberystwyth Town and Bangor City limp out 9-0 and 8-0 on aggregate to opposition from the Republic of Ireland and Iceland, gave a stark and sobering reminder of the gulf in quality that awaits Welsh Premier League clubs, who’ve strived the season previously in order to qualify for Europe. Even the valiant efforts of Andy Preece’s well-prepared Airbus – narrowly beaten by Haugesund, 3-2 on aggregate – were overshadowed in the frustration of last Thursday’s results, as views on the standard of Welsh football and summer football were then vented late into the evening on social media.

An encouraging first-leg display out in Eastern Europe would give a well-timed lift to the current sense of doom and gloom, but The New Saints will be up against it.

TNS have progressed past this round just once, when four years ago they overcame Irish side Bohemians before losing out to Anderlecht, but seeing off the Slovakian champions could be equally as difficult as their two previous continental opponents, Helsingborgs (2012/13) and Legia Warsaw (2013/14).

The Saints will be hoping to remove an element of the surprise factor going into this qualifier after head-coach Carl Darlington travelled to the Slovakian capital to watch Slovan Bratislava’s recent 1-0 Super Cup win over Kosice. Marko Milinkovic, the scorer on that occasion, turned in two more goals on the weekend as the Serbian steered Slovan to a winning start in the league with a 2-1 victory.

A close game (or better!) at the 11,500 capacity Paseinky Stadium would keep the tie alive ahead of the home-leg which TNS will play at Rhyl’s Belle-Vue, next Tuesday.

A one-sided defeat to the Welsh Premier League’s runner-away champions however, will lead to further calls for switching the calendar to summer football, with many enviably noting the success that the League of Ireland is enjoying in terms of positive European results.

The tide appears to be slowly turning a favour of such a move but it remains a gamble which would require complete restructuring of the Welsh system.

KEY POINTS FOR TNS
Steve Evans and Alex Darlington returning – Key members of the Saints’ side who both missed most of last season through injury. Returning to fitness this summer, do Craig Harrison and Carl Darlington opt for Evans’ leadership and experience, and Darlington’s ability to open up teams?

Sam Finley – The best player in the WPL, this European campaign could be Finley’s swansong in a TNS shirt. The Saints will be hoping he can affect the game with his ability but a challenging environment will test his temperament.

Self-belief – If you watched the Welsh Cup final, you wouldn’t have failed to see the self-belief that oozes from the TNS squad. They will not give in and will plug away until the end. It is essential they can keep this intact.

Spoilt for striker choice – With Michael Wilde and Greg Draper in their ranks, TNS have two genuine goalscorers to opt from for their favoured 4-2-3-1 approach. I expect Wilde to start but should things not work out, Draper is an equally competent option.

Feel free to share your predictions and thoughts on TNS’ European tie in the comments section or contact me on Twitter @1matthewburgess, where I’ll re-tweet your views.

Photo special: Dinamo Bucharest & Ludogorets Razgrad visit Connah’s Quay

GAP Connah’s Quay’s pre-season got off to a unique start last week as two of the true heavyweights of Eastern European football came to town…

The Nomads hosted Romanian giants Dinamo Bucharest last Wednesday before entertaining Bulgarian league and cup winners Ludogorets Razgrad at the Deeside Stadium on Saturday. The visitors won 5-0 and 7-0 respectively.

Images courtesy of Nik Mesney:

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Connah’s Quay all red; Dinamo Bucharest white w/red trim; Ludogorets white w/green trim.

Connah’s Quay will be looking to improve on their 10th-place finish next season and have already secured the signings of former Wrexham duo Jay Colbeck and Kyle Parle, along with returning defender George Horan. Well-respected WPL coach Allan Bickerstaff has also been appointed on the club’s backroom staff, while long-serving midfielder Danny Forde and marksman Mike Hayes have both departed.

Welsh Premier return to Europe tinged in disappointment despite Airbus result

My verdict on the night that saw the Welsh Premier League return to Europe…

Two heavy away defeats have all but quashed hopes of seeing Welsh football’s UEFA Europa League representatives enjoying an extended continental campaign this season. Both Aberystwyth and Bangor City were sent packing home with 4-0 first-leg defeats, while Airbus have kept their tie alive after securing a 1-1 draw at Nantporth.

Barring a turnaround of epic proportions, the defeats against European debutees Stjarnan of Iceland and Northern Irish outfit (who confusingly represent the League of Ireland) Derry City have effectively condemned Bangor City and Aberystwyth to first-round exits, with both Welsh sides finishing with ten-players.

Aberystwyth Town, who I felt were the most able of the three WPL clubs to advance past the first qualifying round, were undone early on with the dismissal of goalkeeper Mike Lewis. The red card and resulting penalty proved to be the turning point of the game, much to the frustration of Aber manager Ian Hughes.

“I probably have to be careful what I say here, because I don’t want a big fine, but there are a few things that have gone on that I’m certainly not happy about and I’m sure the players in that dressing room aren’t either, so I’m really disappointed with many things external to what we control,” he revealed post-match before adding he is hoping for a far more competitive encounter in next week’s return leg.

“I’m really looking forward to next week’s game, I know we are 4-0 down but I’m looking forward to bringing them back to Park Avenue and showing what a good team we are.”

“We weren’t allowed to demonstrate that today with only having 10 men on the pitch.”

It will be interesting to see how Aber will acquit themselves in their home leg, as I certainly believe they have players who can cause Derry City problems and the Seasiders will have a score to settle, as a one-off contest at least with the four-goal deficit seemingly unassailable. The suspension to keeper Mike Lewis will be a headache to Ian Hughes – how he must rue the departure of defensive stalwart Peter Hoy, who performed so well in a unique run between the sticks last season, in Lewis’ absence!

At time of writing, I’ve not read too much about Bangor’s defeat but suspected they would find life difficult against a Stjarnan side, who’re on a good run of form in the Icelandic championship.

Two goals in quick succession saw the Citizens battling to keep the tie alive after just 16-minutes of play and Sam Hart’s late red-card added to their woes on a difficult night and confirmed the fears I had for Bangor going into this tie.

It is undeniable that Bangor are in Europe on merit following their play-off success but their squad has largely been untouched since last season, which was one of transition and one where they, at times, lacked consistency and looked vulnerable defensively.

Nev Powell is certainly right to rely on his core of more experienced players such as Les Davies, Sion Edwards and Chris Roberts to lead but I believe the side, at present, lack enough overall quality to compete in Europe. Though rich in potential this current Bangor side certainly aren’t as strong as some of the side’s Powell has been able to assemble in years gone by and it will certainly be interesting to see how much room he has to manoeuvre within his budget over the summer.

But let us finish on a high, where the story of the night was that of Airbus UK’s draw with FK Haugesund – an unlikely result which keeps the tie alive for the Wingmakers’ visit to Norway.

Few expected such a result with Airbus seemingly having the most unfavourable draw of the three clubs. But Jordan Johnson took advantage of an encouraging Airbus start before seeing their lead cancelled shortly before half-time.

Encouragingly, Airbus held their own for periods against a Haugesund, who’re enduring a poor run domestically despite last season’s third-place finish. And the Norwegians will be under pressure at home to advance, with Airbus seen as something of a banana skin.

Andy Preece’s infectious determination will serve them well, though with an away goal under their belt and strengthened by the probable return of first-choice goalkeeper Per Morten Kristiansen and their influential Serbian defender Dusan Cvetinovic for the second-leg, Haugesund should not be discounted as anything other than a formidable side.

Andy Preece’s was evidently delighted with how his side’s applied themselves, with the odds stacked heavily against last season’s WPL runners-up.

“I think it was an unbelievable performance, I don’t think anybody gave us a prayer really,” he said.

“When we watched a couple of their games, they played against Molde who are top of their league and their Champions League team, they were equally as good as them so we were thinking what might happen to us tonight.

“We were fantastic from the first whistle and we could have been a couple of goals up.

“They struggled to defend against us, we created a number of opportunities and that’s the only disappointing thing really is that we didn’t get ourselves a couple of goals in front.

“To keep in the game and to match them for 90 minutes when they are halfway through their season just shows the determination and desire of our players.”

Progression for any of the Welsh clubs in the Europa League would now be a remarkable feat, and it appears that it will be down to The New Saints to solely carry Welsh football’s hopes of an extended European run, when they begin their Champions League qualifying campaign against Slovan Bratislava in a fortnight’s time.

Europa League test awaits WPL trio – will they stand the test?

A small Icelandic town named Garobaer, the Northern Irish city of Derry and the more familiar surroundings of Bangor will be the host venues to Wales’ three UEFA Europa League representatives this week as Bangor City, Aberystwyth Town and Airbus UK look to come away with positive results from their first qualifying round, first-leg ties.

Essentially, these three clubs go into their most crucial and challenging games of the season before the season has actually begun. And whether you are for summer football or against it (as I am), there is little doubt that the scheduling of the European qualifying rounds is unfavourable and a huge hindrance to Welsh football’s hopes of achieving positive results on the European scene.

The start date of the Welsh football calendar is a topic which has been raised and debated time and time again and the scheduling of the domestic season remains one of the burning issues of the Welsh game. I’m not going to delve into the arguments for and against changing the Welsh football calendar as a) the World Cup is on and b) there has already been plenty of reasoned debate both for and against moving the calendar to the summer months – though most significantly, none of the WPL clubs have officially expressed that they are in favour of changing.

So, what we are left with is as situation where the Welsh Premier League’s European representatives regularly face sides that are in mid-competition – thus fitter, sharper and generally better prepared.

This of course, is by no means a blanket excuse as to why Welsh clubs have struggled to compete in Europe – the league’s semi-professional status and clubs limited resources remain fundamental problems – but when taking into consideration those matches that have ended in narrow defeats for WPL sides, the fact that the European qualifying rounds run concurrent with Welsh football’s off-season creates a clear handicap.

The UEFA prize money for advancing into the second qualifying rounds stands at €100,000. Small fry for the larger professional clubs who enter the competition in the later rounds but for developing leagues like the Welsh Premier, such a financial reward would make a considerable dent into a club’s annual running costs. European results are also seen by many as a yard-stick to gauge the standard of the league – positive results on the continent not only ease financial burdens but provide a much-needed boost to the profile and reputation of the league and its clubs.

Since following the league I have little doubt that the standard is gradually improving and the intensified yet much-maligned ‘Super-12’ format can take credit for accelerating the standard of competition in the WPL. The unique structure of the WPL may not be universally popular but it has definitely increased the quality of the league – which was one of the key objectives of its implementation five years ago. Now we hope a trend of improved European results can begin to confirm this.

Of the three Europa League entrants, Airbus have the toughest test on paper as they host Norwegian outfit FK Haugesund at Bangor City’s Bookpeople Stadium. The Norwegians finished third in the Tippeligaen and despite struggling for form, languishing in 14th in the 16-team league after 13 rounds, Airbus can be certain of a stern test.

While Airbus make Nantporth their temporary home for the first-leg, Bangor City find themselves in Iceland where they face Stjarnan – a side who’ve shot to internet fame for a variety of elaborate goal celebrations (which are well worth a look here)! On the pitch, Stjarnan will be very much an unknown quantity to Nev Powell’s side, but unbeaten in 11 games in their domestic championship; the hosts are very much a side in form.

Aberystwyth Town make their long-awaited return to the European stage, as they were quick to point out to Manchester United in their tongue-in-cheek Twitter post last week! The witty tweet comparing the club’s modest Park Avenue to Old Trafford quickly went viral and gaining the club national press coverage. Aber make the short trip to Northern Ireland for their first-leg tie against Derry City. A 6-3 defeat to The New Saints preceded a 5-2 win over Bangor City as part of the Seasiders’ preparations while Derry City, in mid-season and mid-table, held League of Ireland leaders Dundalk to a 2-2 draw last Friday.

There aren’t many certainties in football but one thing you can be sure of is that, regardless of club allegiance, everyone associated with the WPL will be hoping for a healthy return in European results.

Good luck to the three clubs involved and travelling spectators – enjoy the experience and do the Welsh Premier League proud!

HOW WE DID LAST YEAR
Airbus narrowly lost out at the first hurdle after a goalless first-leg in Latvia saw Ventspils edge through on away goals after a 1-1 draw in the return-leg at the Racecourse.

Bala Town marked their European debut with a 1-0 victory at Belle Vue in their first-leg tie against Levadia Tallinn, a 3-1 defeat would follow in the Latvian capital.

Welsh Cup winners Prestatyn Town enjoyed a memorable European campaign, bouncing back from a 2-1 home-leg defeat when Neil Gibson struck in stockage time to seal the Welsh Cup winners a famous 2-1 win against Liepājas Metalurgs. The drama continued well after the initial 90 minutes with Prestatyn edging past the Latvians 4-3 on penalties. A second round qualifying tie to Croatia beckoned for Prestatyn but it proved to be a step too far as they were comprehensively beaten by HNK Rijeka 8-0 across both legs.

I’ve omitted TNS from this Europa League preview blog, they compete in the Champions League second qualifying round against Slovan Bratislava in two weeks’ time.