Europa Conference League: Crusaders and Cliftonville suffer narrow 2-1 defeats in the first legs

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Jordan Forsythe
Jordan Forsythe pulled a goal back for 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 ties.

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

Jordan Forsythe found the net to pull a goal back for Crusaders on 63 minutes.

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

Both Irish Premiership clubs go into next Thursday’s second legs at Seaview and Solitude with their ties delicately poised.

Magpies qualified for the competition by virtue of finishing fourth in the Gibraltar National League last season, while Crusaders are competing in continental club competition for the first time since 2019 after winning a dramatic Irish Cup final in May.

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

Midfielder Bent put the home side in front when he fired in from the edge of the box one minute before the interval at the Victoria Stadium.

Four minutes after the resumption Argentine forward Pibe ran on to a defense-splitting pass to beat the offside trap and coolly slot past Jonny Tuffey.

Forsythe’s leveler from a Clarke corner brought Stephen Baxter’s side back into the tie and the north Belfast side had other second-half opportunities.

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Paul Heatley’s first-time volley bounced tamely wide, while the forward also saw an effort smartly saved by Silva and curled a shot wide.

Cliftonville manager 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 large periods by the home side.

Reds manager Paddy McLaughlin handed competitive debuts 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 partnering 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 push Szantho’s bending free-kick from the edge of the area behind after just seven minutes, then Dominik Kruzliak flashed a header wide of the far post from a corner before his side made the breakthrough on 25 minutes.

The lively Szantho found half a yard of space on the right hand side before cutting in to his favored left foot and firing a sensational strike into the far left-hand corner.

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

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

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

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

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