Ian Sheridan celebrates his goal - Bala's first ever in Europe
Bala Town secured an historic result, in their debut Europa League appearance, registering a first round, first leg victory, with a quick-fire finish from Ian Sheridan, at Rhyl’s Belle Vue against Estonian Premier side Levadia Tallinn (reports Robert Clement).
The solitary goal arrived after only four minutes from a Kenny Lunt left sided comer, Connall Murtagh managed to apply the all-important touch to set up Sheridan, who fired home from close range.
Seven minutes later it was Levadia’s Ilja Antonov who despatched an angled rising shot over the top of Ashley Morris, following an opening carved out by Artjom Artjunin.
The Estonian visitors, who had previously lost 3-1 to Newcastle United in the UEFA Cup seven years ago, threatened to draw level nine minutes before the interval after having acquired a lengthy period of possession, but it was the alertness of Morris who did well to gather a well timed header from Antonov, after Artur Pikk had embarked on a swift attacking route into Bala territory.
Within three minutes into the second half, Mark Jones was close to increasing Bala’s lead, with his razor sharp low shot being turned around the upright by Ukrainian born, Levadia shot stopper Roman Smishko.
With Jones clearly encouraged by that goal attempt, he was once again seizing the opportunity to be a major attacking option for Bala, with him on this occasion being inches away, with a quality delivery flashing past the post.
Bala’s confidence continued to improve and a 58th minute volley from substitute Lewis Codling forced Smishko to be sharp and alert, reacting well in making a crucial save.
Players celebrate Bala's first ever goal in Europe
Midway into the second period, Sheridan found the support of Mark Connolly, and the industrious player’s goalbound shot was deflected away by the outstretched foot of Smishko.
With ten minutes remaining, Sheridan was close to registering his second goal, only for his delicately chipped attempt to be finger-tipped away by the Levadia goalkeeper.
Bala Town’s assistant manager Colin Caton later spoke with Robert Clement in the Belle Vue media suite, responding to the occasion being an historic magical event, for all involved with the football club.
“That’s right, it’s absolutely phenomenal, when people recall that we didn’t have a drop down seat, we didn’t have a tarmac path around the ground, that’s a fact; we didn’t have anything, and for us to get a winning result from our first European game, and maybe could have gone two or three goals up, it just speaks dividends for everybody whose worked so hard, and it’s a total reward for everyone connected with the club”.
Caton then remarked to the surprise of the goal arriving so early in the game.
“We trained here two day’s ago, and we worked really hard on set play, and I thought that it was a great delivery from Kenny Lunt, with the ball finally dropping into the path of Ian Sheridan, with it working perfectly. I’ve already been asked if I was shocked to score so early in the game, well not really, because we’ve worked on something and it came off”.
“I’ve strengthened the defence, having signed Ryan Valentine; he’s an outstanding player and the versatility that he’s going to give to us will be first class, Tony Davies came off at half-time with a cartilage problem and Ryan’s gone from right back to centre half, and he’s added so much experience there through his verbal contribution and his ability, along with his professional knowhow”.
“We’ve overcome some difficult challenges to get here with victories at Bangor and Port Talbot, and also a ten match second phase winning play-off conference sequence, to bring us here tonight”.
Caton then provided his view on the achievement of the club having made the play-off’s for a second successive campaign.
I think the Welsh Premier League has got massively stronger over the last few years, the players that we’ve got are fitter, quicker and everybody’s improving, so it just doesn’t speak dividends of the quality of Bala Town, but also for the quality for whole of Welsh Premier football
“I think the Welsh Premier League has got massively stronger over the last few years, the players that we’ve got are fitter, quicker and everybody’s improving, so it just doesn’t speak dividends of the quality of Bala Town, but also for the quality for whole of Welsh Premier football as well, with the results that we’re starting to get in Europe now”.
With Bala having made their debut appearance in the Europe, it’s a massive testimony to Caton, who’s elevated the Lakesiders during the last decade from a Wrexham area Welsh National League outfit, to Corbett Sports Welsh Premiership Europa League play-off winners, to now have the added bonus of a debut victory in Europe.
“I’ve played in the English system all my life, and there have been massive highlights with F.A. Cup games, but today, that goes down as one of the best performances and best results I’ve ever had in my football career as a player and a manager”.
“With the second leg nine day’s away, we train again twice this week, then we leave to go over to Estonia on Tuesday, so we’ll prepare ourselves fitness wise and get the lads back in for exercising tomorrow, to prepare ourselves as best we can”.
He added, “I think that we would have like to have done better during the ninety minutes if the game had come sixteen matches into our domestic season like they’ve played, where we are still six week’s away from starting ours”.
“The result is so much better when people realise that we haven’t even played a competitive game yet, and we come into the first game and beat one of the top European teams”.
I have belief in the players, because I brought them to Bala and the team spirit is first class. We have a certain quality of player and they all stick by each other, and the team spirit has got them through today
“I have belief in the players, because I brought them to Bala and the team spirit is first class. We have a certain quality of player and they all stick by each other, and the team spirit has got them through today”.
“Hopefully we can get something out of the second leg: it’s going to be difficult, but we’ll get a DVD from this game tonight and we’ll be able to highlight their strengths and weaknesses; because it’s so important that we focus and we prepare ourselves right for that second game next week”.
Bala Town: Ashley Morris, Ben Collins, Stuart Jones, Ryan Valentine, Conall Murtagh, Mark Connolly (Steffan Edwards 81st min), Mark Jones (capt), Ian Sheridan (Paul Lewis 90th min), Tony Davies (Lewis Codling 46th min), Stephen Brown, Kenny Lunt.
Unused substitutes: Edwin Renaud, Ryan Jones, Matthew Boswell, Kristian Pierce.
FC Levadia Tallinn: Roman Smishko (capt), Artjom Artjunin, Ilja Antonov, Igor Subbotin, Maksim Podholjuzin, Aleksandr Kulinits, Aleksei Jahhimovits, Artur Pikk, Marek Kaljumae (Artur Rattel 46th min), Andreas Raudsepp, Rimo Hunt (Ingemar Teever 83rd min).
Unused substitutes: Kevin Ingermann, Andero Pebre, Priit Pikker.
Goalscorer: Bala Town: Ian Sheridan 4th min.
Yellow card: Bala Town: Tony Davies 33rd min.
Referee: Vasilis Dimitriou (Cyprus).