Manager’s programme notes v Qarabag

Posted : 1st September 2019

Tonight we will face a huge challenge when we welcome Qarabag to Windsor Park for this Europa League play-off first leg tie.

Our welcome visitors are regulars at this stage of the competition, while we are making history tonight, by becoming the first Irish League club to play in the fourth round of a European club competition.

We have watched videos of Qarabag and prepared throughly for what we know will be a tough assignment across the two legs of the tie. In a previous round Qarabag defeated a strong Dundalk team, so that gives an indication of the level we are competing at, but we enter this tie full of belief and optimism.

Our European run so far this season has been hugely enjoyable and memorable. We prepared professionally in a training camp in Marbella in Spain and the value of the time spent there can be assessed in terms of what we have achieved in Europe since then.

We may have lost to Rosenborg in the Champions League but their subsequent results in the competition have shown what a strong team they are. We followed this up with progress in the Europa League in challenging ties against HB Torshavn of the Faroes and FK Sutjeska of Montenegro which have brought us to tonight’s eagerly anticipated play off tie against a Qarabag team that have faced Chelsea and Arsenal in the group stages in recent years and that will be their ambition again this year.

Last week’s 3-2 home win against FK Sutjeska was hugely enjoyable. It was a great occasion for everyone at the club and with a big crowd creating a special European atmosphere under the Windsor park floodlights, so many people have since told me how much they enjoyed the game, the result and the occasion.

We got off to the best possible start, with early goals from Mark Stafford and Shayne Lavery but, even with 10 men, our Montenegrin visitors responded strongly early in the second half and at 2-2, were putting us under real pressure. I think the Windsor park roof nearly came off when Matthew Clarke scored what turned out to be the winning goal, to send us through to this historic first ever Europa League play off tie against the champions of Azerbaijan.

While we are rightly proud of what we have achieved for club and country on the European stage this season, we were nevertheless hugely disappointed with the performance and result in Saturday’s league game at home to Coleraine.

We got off to the worst possible start conceding a first minute goal and never really got going, with too many of our players underperforming on the day. We got score back to 2-3 and I thought we could have gone on to salvage something from the game, but we never really kicked on after that and the defeat was a huge setback for us.

I will be looking for a positive response from the players selected for duty tonight, as we go about the task of securing a result that will give us a chance of qualifying for the group stages in the second leg in Baku next week.

If we are to achieve a positive result, we will need more of the same vociferous support we received in last week’s game against FK Sutjeska, so please get behind each and every one of our players tonight.
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