JD Welsh Premier League champions The New Saints will have the opportunity to avenge a previous UEFA Europa League defeat on Thursday evening when they take on Danish outfit FC Midtjylland at the Cardiff City Stadium (7.45pm).
The New Saints v FC Midtjylland
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE
- Third Qualifying Round
- Thursday, 9 August 2018
- Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
- Kick off: 7:45pm
- Coverage: Live on Sgorio, S4C
- Tickets: Click here
The New Saints are competing in the competition for the first time since 2011/12 as their domestic dominance has placed them in the UEFA Champions League ever since. However, following a change in the format of the competition this season, they now find themselves preparing for the 3rd qualifying round having disposed of Gibraltarian champions Lincoln Red Imps.
Their last Europa League campaign ended with an 8-3 aggregate defeat to Midtjylland seven years ago, and the Danes head into the match as favourites once again. However, Scott Ruscoe's side showed their potential to cause a European upset in the opening round of the Champions League last month when they defeated Macedonian side Shkendija 4-0 at Park Hall, but it wasn't enough to reverse a 5-0 away defeat.
Their early exit from UEFA's premier club competition opened the door to a second chance in the Europa League, and following a 2-1 victory over Lincoln Red Imps in the 1st leg of their 2ndqualifying round tie, a 1-1 draw in Gibraltar was enough to see the domestic champions progress. With increased stadium criteria to be met in the next round, the home match against Midtjylland will take place at Cardiff City Stadium.
When the two sides last met, The New Saints came close to causing an upset in the 1stleg. Mike Davies was manager at the time, and it was current assistant and former Wales defender Steve Evans who headed the Saints in-front after 59 minutes at Park Hall. But the Danes replied minutes later through Rilwan Hassan, and further goals in the final four minutes of the game from Danny Olsen and Mads Albaek for the visitors turned a very credible 1-1 draw into a 3-1 defeat.
“We gave everything, but teams like that have always got another gear,” said a despondent Davies after the match. “Unfortunately for us, they just notched it up a little bit, and we switched off. When you switch off against quality opposition they are going to punish you.” In addition to Evans, a number of the current Saints team were involved in that match, including manager Ruscoe and captain Paul Harrison.
The two late goals meant that The New Saints would need to try and take the return match to Midtjylland, but their bravery was punished inside 24 minutes as Sylvester Emeka and Ikechukwu Nworuh gave the Danes a commanding lead. Alex Darlington scored twice in the second half, but the tie was already out of reach, and the match eventually finished 5-2 as Saints saw another European campaign come to an end.
But there had been Europa League success for The New Saints prior to the defeat. In the 1st qualifying round of 2011/12 they disposed of Irish side Cliftonville 2-1 on aggregate to build on their Europa League play-off defeat to Bulgarian giants CSKA Sofia the season before. Now the Saints not only have the opportunity to avenge that defeat to Midtjylland, but know that victory would offer then another chance at the play-offs for only the second time in their European history.
Reaching the group stages of either the Champions League or the Europa League has so far eluded clubs from the Welsh domestic pyramid, but Irish sides Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk are amongst a number of clubs from smaller nations that have shown in recent seasons that the dream can become a reality. The New Saints bring a wealth of experience to the competition, and a famous result on Thursday would move them another step closer to achieving that ultimate aim.
Tickets for the UEFA Europa League 3rd qualifying round match between The New Saints and Midtjylland at the Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday, 9 August are priced at just £5 each. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.