Cliftonville can upset Europa League opponents FK Haugesund: Conor McMenamin
UEFA Europa League First Qualifying Round second leg: FK Haugesund v Cliftonville (tonight, Haugesund Stadion, 6pm)
CLIFTONVILLE midfielder Conor McMenamin believes there is still plenty of life left in the club’s Europa League adventure despite trailing Norwegian outfit FK Haugesund 1-0 ahead of tonight’s second leg clash.
Christian Grindheim’s first-half goal at Solitude last Thursday night proved enough for the Scandinavians to take away a first leg advantage.
But McMenamin is confident the north Belfast men, who dismissed Barry Town in their preliminary Europa League qualifier, can nick a goal at the Haugesund Stadion tonight.
“It is going to be difficult against them,” acknowledged McMenamin. “They are 16 or 17 games into their league season and we’re only six weeks back, but we did create chances against them in the first leg.
“I didn’t think they looked fitter than us. Don’t get me wrong they have a couple of good players and they moved the ball well, but one goal and we’re back in the tie. We’ll think positively about this game and if we take one of those chances you’re looking at a completely different story.
“We always believe we’ll score goals no matter who we’re playing against because of the fire-power we have going forward.”
McMenamin is arguably in the best form of his career having been signed by the club at the beginning of last season by ex-boss Barry Gray.
It was McMenamin’s resilient performances in last season’s Europa League play-off victories over Coleraine and Glentoran that saw him become a regular fixture in Paddy McLaughlin’s team this term.
“When I joined Cliftonville I hit the ground running but results didn’t go our way and we weren’t playing well, and I was getting taken off in games,” the Downpatrick native said.
“But since Paddy’s come in he’s been a breath of fresh air for me. He’s realised the qualities that I have. He’s given me all the confidence that I need and thankfully it’s showing on the pitch now and I’m just delighted where I am now.
“Last year a six or a seven-out-of-10 performance would have been enough to keep your place, whereas now it’s not good enough and you’ll be dropped the next week.
“Paddy’s man-management skills are brilliant and to be able to keep a group of 18 or more players happy isn’t easy when some of them aren’t playing. Since he’s come in look at the results we’ve had. Everybody is growing in confidence because of those results, and the changing room is always a happy place, and a lot of that is down to the manager.”
With still a year left to run on his current deal, the former Linfield and Glentoran player wants to remain at Solitude for a long time.
“To get two goals against Coleraine in the [Europa league play-off] semi-final and to get a goal in the play-off final against Glentoran all just adds to your confidence. And thankfully I’ve kept that form up for the start of this season.”
Elsewhere, Crusaders will be hoping their two-goal advantage against B36 Torshavn will be enough ahead of tonight’s second leg in the Faroe Islands to seal a Europa League date with Wolves in the next round, while Ballymena United will want to keep the scoreline respectable against Malmo who lead 7-0 from the first leg.
Shamrock Rovers, meanwhile, are the best placed of the League of Ireland sides to progress as they host Brann after a 2-2 first leg scoreline.