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Nomads claim famous Europa League win against Helsinki

Published date: 30 June 2017 |
Published by: Daniel Heald 
Read more articles by Daniel Heald  Email reporter


 

Connah's Quay Nomads claimed one of the most famous European victories in Welsh football history with a heroic 1-0 Europa League first round win against HJK Helsinki.

The fixture pitted the part-time Nomads against the comparatively huge Finnish side that has dominated its domestic league for decades.

HJK's immense qualifying record for major European competitions and superior resources ought to have seen them win at a canter.

But in one of the biggest upsets in recent memory, the unfancied Nomads withstood relentless pressure from the Finns to emerge with a vital first-leg win.

It was a magnificent defensive display that got the Nomads' nascent Europa League campaign off to a flying start at Bangor's Nantporth Stadium.

Nathan Woolfe's left foot effort proved the difference between the sides as his superb cross found the net after 42 minutes.

The inclement June rain and wind that swept across  Nantporth was no doubt familiar to the Finnish visitors.

And with a touchline suspension carried over from last season, Nomads boss Andy Morrison was dry at least as he watched from the stands.

Having deployed a five-man midfield to contain HJK's latent attacking threat, Nomads kept their shape well in the opening exchanges.

There was an early scare when Akseli Pelvas fired straight at Nomads keeper John Danby after a smart through-ball from Ghanaian Evans Mensah.

But despite their dominance in possession, HJK struggled to break down a resolute Nomads back line, marshalled superbly by captain George Horan.

A miserly defensive record last season was the foundation for the Nomads success, something Morrison is justifiably proud about.

And once again it served them well as they matched an HJK side blessed with an array of international attacking talent.

With half an hour played Helsinki upped the tempo, with lively Gambian forward Demba Savage threatening down the left hand side.

HJK's experienced Brazilian captain Rafinha then struck a vicious dipping shot from 25 yards, which Danby did superbly to push around the post.

A mis-timed lunge from Mike Wilde on Hannu Patronen saw the Nomads frontman cautioned as his side struggled for a foothold in the game.

Further sustained pressure saw HJK almost make the breakthrough when Anthony Annan's powerful effort took a wicked deflection off Horan and looped inches wide of Danby's goal.

Then, after soaking up sustained HJK pressure and completely against the run of play, Nomads were ahead in fortuitous circumstances just before half-time.

Woolfe's measured inswinging cross from the right flank eluded everyone in the Nomads box before nestling in the bottom corner.

The ecstatic Nomads players raced down the touchline to celebrate with Woolfe who was mobbed by his jubilant team mates.

The sedate start to the first half contrasted starkly with the frenetic pace after the restart.

A slicker, more attack-minded Nomads side emerged after the interval with midfielder Callum Morris twice going close.

Having wriggled free of his marker inside the box, Morris poked the ball goalwards from a tight angle, drawing a reflex save from Markus Uusitalo.

On 52 minutes Morris was denied by the HJK stopper again when his glancing header from Wolfe's cross was superbly tipped away.

HJK rallied quickly as their quality and superior match fitness quickly came to the fore again.

Raffinha smashed a powerful effort towards the bottom corner from the edge of the box as Danby got down well to avert the danger.

There was no respite though as HJK laid siege to the Nomads goal, with the Flintshire side's defending growing increasingly frantic.

Michael Pearson and defensive team mate Horan were in formidable form, launching into a series of vital blocks and clearances.

Having looked ragged for a 20-minute spell, the Nomads rearguard stood firm amid the barrage of attacks.

But HJK perservered with Pelvas in menacing form and frequently and finding space when cutting in from the right.

His 78th minute effort flew narrowly wide of the upright, while his next effort from a goalmouth scramble was superbly palmed away by Danby.

Entering the final 10 minutes, HJK forced five corners in quick succession, each forcing frantic goal line clearances from the Nomads.

But still they remained unbowed and repelled everything their more illustrious opponents could throw at them.

As the final whistle blew, the euphoric Nomads players celebrated wildly after a draining but thrilling collective performance.

With the slenderest of leads to take to Helsinki next week, the Nomads have something tangible to hold on to and will travel there in buoyant mood.

But whatever happens in the Finnish capital, this gloomy Thursday night in Bangor will linger long in the memory for the Nomads and all of their supporters.

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