Football/Soccer

Irish sides aiming for progress in Europa Conference League

Glentoran’s Jamie McDonagh scores against The New Saints in the first leg at The Oval. Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

IT'S the Irish Premiership versus the Cymru Premier League tonight as Northern Ireland goes head to head with Wales in the Europa Conference League - with a touch of Bosnia & Herzegovina thrown in.

On Tuesday night Linfield were knocked out of the Champions League and now find themselves in UEFA's latest competition. If Coleraine, Glentoran and Larne can join them in next week's second qualifying round it will be quite an evening for football here.

The Glens will get the ball rolling away to Welsh outfit The New Saints (TNS) at 6.15pm with the scores level after a 1-1 first leg draw at the Oval last week.

In the latter stages in east Belfast as Mick McDermott's men came on strong and levelled through substitute Jamie McDonagh, it was evident that the fitness of the TNS players took a dip.

McDermott feels the same scenario could occur tonight in the return in Shropshire when he is hoping to have some key players available for selection after missing out first time around.

"The levels and rhythms we can play at are a bit higher than what they are used to and with the five sub rule you can throw in the cavalry like Ciaran O'Connor and Jay Donnelly if they are available," said McDermott.

"You saw what fresh players did in the first leg late on against a team that looked like they were getting heavy legged.

"In the return leg they may change the way they play but we are not worried and will be well prepared for it. We have to go and be a bit better and take a couple more of the chances that we created at the Oval."

History will be made at Larne one way or another as they host their first ever European fixture. There will be a party atmosphere at Inver Pak with hundreds of home supporters allowed in to see their second leg against Bala Town (7.30pm) and with a 1-0 advantage from the opening encounter in Wales, secured by Davy McDaid's early goal, Tiernan Lynch's side will fancy their chances of progressing.

McDaid said: "One of the biggest things for us is having fans behind us. The difference they make to us is incredible. I really don't think people understand how different it is to play in front of them. Knowing they'll be behind us is very significant for us."

At 8pm Coleraine will start their 'home' Europa Conference League game 2-1 behind Bosnia & Herzegovina outfit Velez Mostar. Underdogs they may be but manager Oran Kearney has pulled off many a shock for the Bannsiders and is relishing the opportunity to do so again.

With Coleraine's pitch unavailable due to ongoing work at the Showgrounds, Mourneview Park in Lurgan will host the fixture which will see the Irish League side without the influential Lyndon Kane who was sent off in Herzegovina.

Kearney said: "We had an eight- or nine-month slog to get this opportunity in Europe so we won't be going out without a fight. We are looking forward to it."

Elsewhere in the competition Sligo Rovers will aim to overturn a 1-0 deficit at home to FH Hafnarfjördur from Iceland and Bohemians are confident they can see off another Icelandic team, Stjarnan, following a 1-1 draw away last week.

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Football/Soccer