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Wednesday, 27 July 2016 15:23


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THURSDAY 21st JULY - Belle Vue, warm, dry.
GAP CONNAH'S QUAY 1 FK VOJVODINA 2 (UEFA Europa League, 2nd Qualifying Round, 2nd leg)
The fifth match of my annual July European travels, and before a ball is kicked, almost certainly the last this year. Already this week TNS have lost in Cyprus, leaving only Connahs Quay flying the flag. They only trail 1-0 from the away leg in Serbia last week, having held out for 86 minutes and finally conceded a deflected goal, but it's hard to see them preventing the talented visitors from scoring here in the home leg. But we travel in hope.

The teamsheet gives a clear indication that Quay manager Andy Morrison is going to have a go at this, whatever the odds - he's named both Mike Wilde and Les Davies up front. And I'd much rather see the Welsh side go down fighting than witness a dour, damage limitation exercise.

Of course, what the Nomads can't afford to do is concede, but sadly they do so in the seventh minute. A rather cynically-won free-kick is struck superbly by Dejan Meleg, Danby unable to prevent it going in under his crossbar.

Game over? Well, probably, but the Nomads are not giving up by any means. They look a lot more controlled and cohesive - and adventurous - than they did here against Stabaek, and create some decent attacking moves. They really aren't helped by Slovakian referee Kralovic, who seems to penalise Wilde and Davies every time they challenge. And, in my view, he's being repeatedly conned by the Serbians, who fall to the ground yelling when approached by an opponent. No wonder Vojvodina hold onto their 1-0 lead at the break.

The second half brings an early goal, a dubious penalty (doubly dubious it turns out, as it was outside the box too), followed by an even more aggressive approach by the Nomads, which inevitably bothers the Serbians and leads to more free-kicks and yellow cards. In the 51st minute, a fracas raises the temperature a bit, and the match has become more interesting than I ever expected.

The Nomads do start to threaten to score - admittedly they would need four to win, but there's the result on the night, and also pride. Eventually they get their reward, Wes Baynes sending a ball into the box, and Michael Wilde distracting keeper Kordic enough for it to go in. Wilde claims a touch, but I think it went straight in.

Another goal would give the home side an unlikely draw, and they battle hard for it. On the touchline, Andy Morrison battles too, and gets dismissed from the dugout for chastising the officials, who really have been as easily conned as any I've seen in Europe. Despite all this, chances come - there's a fair shout for a penalty (handball) and a late header that goes very close. The goal won't come, though, and Nomads go out. In truth, we knew it would end tonight - but we didn't expect it to be so entertaining!

So, all the Welsh teams are finally out of Europe. A similar pattern to last year, two teams out in the first round, two make it to the second and put in a brave performance before going out. Considering how tough the draw was this year, it's a very satisfactory outcome, but of course the 'holy grail' is still to get past that second hurdle. Maybe next year.

In the meantime, the Welsh clubs' performances can potentially be re-assessed in the light of how well their conquerors do. I've been taking a look at how Apoel and Vojvodina are expected to do in the next qualifying round. It's relatively easy to find and compare odds on all the UEFA matches these days, but if you're planning to invest, make sure you get best value, not just on price, but on bookies' offers - you can do this by using the useful listing of Free Bets at Bethut.

Apoel look outsiders in their tie with Danish Midtjylland, so TNS's achievement may not get a boost in retrospect, but the FK Vojvodina v Dinamo Minsk tie looks very close based on pre-first leg odds, and if the Serbians do go on past the third qualifying round that will make the Nomads efforts, in holding them to a couple of narrow and unfortunate defeats, look all the more impressive.

Read 4397 times Last modified on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 15:41

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