TNS & Connah’s Quay: Staying in is the new going out.

When I used to cover Brazilian football (time really goes too quick!), reporters would always seem to clamour around the phrase ‘o time de guerreiros‘ when a side turned a particularly committed and determined collective performance – a team of warriors. That very term sprung to mind as I watched the second-half of Connah’s Quay’s second round tie out in Serbia.

True, Vojvodina were completely dominant and Connah’s Quay were on the back-foot for the entire 90-minutes bar the exceptional and rare burst forward intothe opposition’s half, but the Nomads continually denied FK Vojvodina until the final few minutes when they eventually succumbed with the hosts finally break though in the 86th-minute.

The desire and focus from Connah’s Quay was such that to come away with a single-goal defeicit must be heartbreaking for all associated at the club but remarkably tie is still very much alive.

It was interesting to note that even though Nomads boss Andy Morrison didn’t expect FK Vojvodina to be as strong as they were, his side were still well-enough organised and coped admirably under pressure.

The defence and midfield were water-tight and very nearly, everything that did get through was claimed by the excellent John Danby in the Nomads goal.

Morrison’s stock has certainly risen during his time in charge at Connah’s Quay and the fact he defiantly believes his side can still go and cause a few problems in the return-leg in Rhyl next Thursday, makes me believe that this one isn’t quite yet over despite that incredibly one-sided first-leg.

A third qualifying round visit to Dinamo Minsk or St Patrick’s Athletic would be one of biggest scalps in history by a Welsh club side in Europe.

While Connah’s Quay were left to rue that late FK Vojvodina goal, TNS meanwhile managed to go one better earlier in the week earning a 0-0 draw with APOEL Nicosia at Park Hall.

The Saints were not put on the back-foot quite as much as the WPL counterparts out in Serbia, but there is little doubt that next Tuesday’s away leg out in Cyprus will be extremely difficult – and that’s even before taking into consideration the forecast 30 degree heat.

APOEL plugged and probed in the first-leg but were unable to make their superiority count as they were cancelled out by a superbly disciplined TNS defence, spearheaded by captain marvelous Phil Baker on the night he equalled Saints stalwart Scott Ruscoe’s Welsh record of 30 games in Europe.

APOEL were toothless in front of goal given their dominance and TNS can hope the Cypriots inability to score at Park Hall will come back and haunt them next week. APOEL’s lack of a quality striker is their biggest weakness and something that the Cypriot press have alluded to, even before playing TNS.

The task now for Craig Harrison is to not only set out his side with the same level of discipline and defensive awareness as in the first-leg, but to also establish themselves as a threat themselves going forward. Chances are again likely to be a premium for TNS but an away goal would have a huge impact on the tie.

As I wrote last week about TNS in Europe, it really does seem that they are inching closer and closer to making that European breakthrough. Whilst the performance against APOEL was outstanding – it’s hard to disagree with Craig Harrison’s assessment was that it was their best performance in his time at the club – but seeing TNS apply themselves so competently is starting to become the norm. They’re really not that far from getting it right now.

Welsh clubs holding their own against respectable European opposition is a sure sign that the standard of the WPL is improving. 

This summer Craig Harrison, Andy Morrison and their respective sides have been an absolute credit to the Welsh Premier League.

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