Larne have a mountain to climb after Champions League loss in Latvia

The Premiership champions lost 3-0 to RFS

RFS v Larne
RFS players celebrate after Stefan Panic has scored their side's third goal in the win over Larne. Picture: Pacemaker

Uefa Champions League first qualifying round, first leg

RFS 3 Larne 0

Premiership champions Larne were brought crashing down to reality as they went down 3-0 in Riga to RFS, leaving them a mountain to climb in next week’s second-leg tie.

The Reds were thoroughly dominated throughout the contest and it was no surprise when they went behind in the first half to a Martins Kigurs goal.

The second half went much the same way as the first with further goals from Daniels Balodis and Stefan Panic killing the game off before the hour mark.

The hosts started the evening with intent and Larne struggled to get a foothold in the match before they almost conceded after only 15 minutes of action.

Janis Ikaunieks finished inside the box but VAR judged the strike to be offside and his strike was chalked off, much to the relief of the visitors. However, on 29 minutes the Latvians did take the lead after a sustained period of pressure.

Ikaunieks was again involved as he squared the ball from the left-hand side where Kigurs arrived to sweep home from 12 yards.

Tiernan Lynch’s side struggled to impose themselves in the remainder of the opening period, with new signing Baris Altintop and Aaron Donnelly both cautioned as they struggled to contain a threatening home attack.

If Larne had hopes they would come out of the traps with all cylinders firing after the break, RFS had other ideas as they doubled their lead on 49 minutes.

The visitors appeared to struggle defending set-pieces for most of the game and it was to be this weakness that cost them. Petr Mares’ out-swinging delivery was nodded on by Panic and Balodis sneaked around to the back upright to head home.

Recent signing from Coleraine Conor McKendry was probably Larne’s best player on the night and he went close soon after with a shot from outside the area that rose high and wide.

However, any hopes of an away resurgence were totally extinguished on 58 minutes when the hosts grabbed a decisive third goal.

A foul by captain Cian Bolger allowed Serbian midfielder Panic to break visiting fans’ hearts with a delightful free-kick finish. A top-drawer strike which killed the game as a contest and potentially the tie as a whole.

With the result no longer in question the game fizzled out somewhat to its conclusion.

Larne manager Tiernan Lynch will know he will have his work cut out to get back in the contest in a week’s time when the sides meet at Inver Park.

Larne: Ferguson, Cosgrove, Bolger (C), Altintop, Ives, Donnelly, Gallagher, Sloan, McKendry, Ryan, Bonis

Subs: D. Graham, Thomson, O’Neill, S. Graham, Glynn, Brown,. Lusty, Devlin

RFS Ondoa, Balodis, Prenga, Lipuscek (C), Markhiev, Panic, Kigurs, Mares, Ikaunieks, Emerson, Diomande

Subs: Steinbors, Vilkovs, Cucurs, Kouadio, Lemajic, Ndjiki, Njie, Odisharia, Savic, Zaleiko