Europa Conference League: Crusaders and Cliftonville suffer narrow 2-1 first leg defeats

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Jordan Forsythe retired a goal for the Crusaders against Bruno’s Magpies

Crusaders and Cliftonville both suffered narrow 2-1 away defeats in the first legs of their Europa Conference League first qualifying round.

The Crusaders led 2-0 against Gibraltar’s Bruno Magpies thanks to goals either side of half-time from Daniel Bent and Pibe.

Jordan Forsythe found the net to bring home a goal for the Crusaders in the 63rd minute.

Rego Szantho put DAC ahead of Cliftonville, Ronan Hale equalized, but Nikola Krstovic netted the winner.

The two Irish Premiership clubs will enter next Thursday’s second legs at Seaview and Solitude with their ties delicately balanced.

The Magpies qualified for the competition by finishing fourth in Gibraltar’s National League last season, while the Crusaders enter continental club competition for the first time since 2019 after winning a spectacular Irish Cup final in May.

The visitors had the chance to open the scoring in the 17th minute when Ross Clarke launched a darting run down the right and scored on goal, but his shot was blocked by goalkeeper Matt Silva and then cleared.

Midfielder Bent gave the home side the lead when he fired from the edge of the box a minute before the break at Victoria Stadium.

Four minutes after the restart, Argentine striker Pibe ran on a defensive pass to thwart the offside trap and coolly pass Jonny Tuffey.

Forsythe’s leveler from a Clarke corner put Stephen Baxter’s side in the draw and the North Belfast side had further chances in the second half.

Paul Heatley’s first volley bounced back softly, while the striker also saw a smartly saved effort from Silva and curled a shot wide.

Cliftonville coach Paddy McLaughlin
Paddy McLaughlin’s Cliftonville side have a 2-1 deficit to overcome in the second leg

At the MOL Arena in Slovakia, the first half was dominated for long periods by the home team.

Reds manager Paddy McLaughlin offered competitive starts to three of Cliftonville’s summer arrivals, as goalkeeper Talley was selected between the sticks with Stephen Mallon starting on the left wing and Ronan Hale linking up with Ryan Curran up front in a 4-4-2 formation.

DAC were playing their first game under new manager Adrian Guľa.

On loan, Brighton stopper Talley was forced to fend off Szantho’s free-kick from the edge of the box after just seven minutes and then Dominik Kruzliak headed wide past the far post from a corner before his side make the breakthrough in the 25th minute.

The lively Szantho found half a yard of space down the right side before clipping his favorite left foot and firing a sensational strike into the far left corner.

Cliftonville were only three minutes behind as Jamie McDonagh fired in a tantalizing cross from the right, which landed on Ronan Hale, who opened his account for the Reds with an improvised finish at the far post.

The former Larne man had a chance to double his and Cliftonville’s tally just before the break but was unable to apply the finishing touches after a solo run inside his own half.

The hosts took the lead for the second time on 65 minutes after a superb first strike from Nikola Krstovic gave Fynn Talley no chance after meeting Dominik Veselovsky’s low cross from the edge of the box – but with With less than 14 minutes remaining, they had substitute Brahim Moumou sent off for a forward foul on Chris Curran.

Moumou had only been on the pitch for 11 minutes but was dismissed for a reckless challenge against fellow substitute Curran.

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