Cliftonville fall to Danish outfit in Europa League qualifier while Coleraine are denied by late goal in Serbia
Europa League first qualifying round, first leg: Cliftonville 0 FC Nordsjaeland 1
IN 2016, FC Nordsjaeland renamed their stadium on the outer fringes of Copenhagen ‘Right to Dream’.
It will probably take some fertile imagination on Cliftonville’s part to see them progress at their Danish opponents’ expense in next Thursday’s return leg.
A 19th minute goal from Andreas Olsen at Solitude last night was enough to see Nordsjaeland take a big advantage into the second leg.
Cliftonville huffed and puffed without looking especially dangerous in a drab early-season encounter played in front of 1,170 supporters.
The Reds fielded their two summer signings – Conor McMenamin and Ryan Curran – who occupied either flank in last night’s Europa League qualifier against the Danes.
But it was in the wide areas in which the Irish League part-timers were badly exposed in the first half.
Nordsjaeland, who finished third in the Danish Superliga last season, used every inch of width of Solitude and had the home side run ragged before the break.
The Danish full-timers naturally looked fitter and sharper in most areas of the field and they made their dominance pay by opening their account on 19 minutes.
The Cliftonville defence was caught flat-footed when unopposed striker Olsen tapped home from a low, bobbling cross from the left flank.
Prior to the visitors’ opening goal, Godsway Donyoh had two good efforts on Brian Neeson’s goal to signal their intent to kill this Europa League tie off before next Thursday’s return leg in Copenhagen.
From an attacking perspective, the Reds offered little threat with Joe Gormley and Rory Donnelly chasing lost causes for the vast majority of last night’s tie.
Chris Curran tried manfully to knit play in the middle of the field but Barry Gray’s men lacked the sharpness to work their way into the tie.
Soon after the restart, the Danes almost doubled their lead when the advancing Karlo Bartolec unleashed a rasping 25-yarder – but Neeson made a fine save to keep the score at 1-0.
Arguably the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for the eagerly awaited return of Ryan Catney, ending an 18-month injury nightmare.
The Reds favourite suffered a horrific double leg fracture against Crusaders in January 2017 and, against the odds, he was back on the competitive stage last night, entering the fray for Jaimie McGovern just after the hour mark.
The north Belfast men improved slightly on their first half performance and despite Gormley having a couple of sights of goal they found the going tough against the Danes.
Stevie Garrett, a renowned impact sub for Cliftonville in recent seasons, joined the fray for the final quarter of an hour and offered greater urgency down the right flank.
Debutant Ryan Curran showed decent glimpses on a difficult night for Cliftonville, Chris Curran also showed typical composure in possession but, in truth, the Reds never looked like penetrating FC Nordsjaeland who easily retained their one-goal advantage and had a few more chances of increasing their lead in the closing stages.
It’s all uphill for Gray’s men in the second leg.
COLERAINE suffered heartache at the death in Serbia last night when they let slip a one-goal lead after conceding a late penalty.
The Bannsiders had arrived in the Balkans to play Spartak Subotica without manager Oran Kearney and without much expectation of taking a result back to Ireland with them.
However, Darren McAuley had other ideas and, when Spartak ’keeper Persic blundered in the 23rd minute, the Coleraine midfielder was on hand to bury the ball into the back of the net.
After their first strike in European competition in 15 years, the Irish Cup winners looked set to hold on for a famous victory until Spartak won a penalty in the last minute. Savkovic made no mistake from the spot to spare Serbian blushes.
The Bannsiders have given themselves a fighting chance to progress in the tie, though, when Spartak visit Coleraine for the second leg next week.
Cliftonville: B Neeson, J McGovern (R Catney 62), L Ives, G Breen, J Harney, L Bagnall, C Curran, R Curran, R Donnelly, J Gormley, C McMenamin (S Garrett 73) Subs not used: D Dunne, C McDonald, R Lavery, A Donnelly, D McNulty
FC Nordsjaeland: N Larsen, K Bartolec, C Nelsson, M Pedersen, MR Jensen (N Strunck 87), M Jensen, G Donyoh (MS Frese 71), BT Hansen, A Skovgaard, A Olsen (M Rasmussen 57), M Damsgaard Subs not used: PV Jensen, U Jenssen, M Aaquist, , C Antwi
Referee: S Szabo (Hungary)