Larne have a mountain to climb after heavy defeat in Kosovo

Lee Bonis and Larne struggled in front of goal against Balkani in Pristina
Lee Bonis and Larne struggled in front of goal against Balkani in Pristina Lee Bonis and Larne struggled in front of goal against Balkani in Pristina

Uefa Europa Conference League second qualifying round, first leg

Balkani 3 Larne 0

LARNE’S hopes of making Uefa Europa Conference League progress look slim after suffering a 3-0 defeat in Kosovo against Ballkani. 

Tiernan Lynch’s men found themselves two goals down at the break and conceded a crucial third midway through the second half to leave themselves with a mountain to climb at Solitude next Thursday. 

Despite being an 8.45pm kick-off in Pristina, the game was played in the mid-20’s degrees celsius as Europe continues to experience a heatwave and the visitors never really got to grips with this nor their free-flowing opponents.

Larne traveled without influential defender Cian Bolger, who limped off against HJK Helsinki, but the home side weren’t without their own injury woes, with captain Edvin Kuc limping out of the warm-up and having to be replaced in the starting line-up by Almir Kryeziu, who would go on to have a big say in the match. 

Right from the off Larne were under the cosh and the home side could have broken the deadlock after just six minutes, but Rohan Ferguson made a great, point-blank save. 

Larne settled after this, enjoying a few forays forward, but Ballkani came close again on 21 minutes, as Nazmi Gripshi produced a powerful drive after breaking into the box, which Ferguson again did well to repel. 

There was to be no rest, however, and the deadlock was broken with 26 minutes gone. 

Gripshi was fouled inside the box and Ukranian referee Denys Shurman pointed to the spot. 

Albion Rrahmani took his time before confidently slotting home the opener, despite Rohan Ferguson guessing the right way. 

Things then went from bad to worse for the Invermen when Ballkani doubled their lead seven minutes later. 

Despite protests about an offside in the build-up Almir Kryeziu was able to pick up a pass and run on a through on goal before slotting past the exposed Ferguson. 

In truth it was no more than the home side, who made last year’s Conference League group stages, deserved. 

Larne enjoyed a promising spell around the hour mark, with Andy Ryan and Levi Ives, who came off the bench for his debut, but they couldn’t find a genuine goalscoring opportunity. 

The home side responded by essentially killing off the contest on 68 minutes. After finding space inside the box, the dangerous Albion Rrahmani twisted this way and that to lay the ball on a plate for Gripshi to lash home past an exposed Ferguson. 

From this point onwards it was a long way back for Larne to salvage something, but they almost gave themselves a glimmer of hope nine minutes from time. Paul O’Neill did well to get to the byline and pull the ball back for fellow substitute Joe Thomson, but his shot from 12 yards was blocked for a corner. 

Larne Ferguson, Sloan (’61 Thomson), Want, Cosgrove (’87 Maguire), Donnelly, Millar, Glynn (’61 Ives), Gordon, Farquhar,  Ryan (’76 O’Neill), Bonis (’76 Westendorf) 

Ballkani Kolci, Thaqi, Dellova, Emerllahu, Korenica (’90 Kapra), Rrahmani (‘89 Tolaj), Grispshi (’90 Tusha), Zyba, Trashi, (’89 Potoku),Kryeziu (’74 Berisha), Jashanica 

Referee Denys Shurman (Ukraine)