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Connah's Quay Nomads vs HJK Helsinki
UEFA Europa League
Thursday 29th June 2017 | 7:00pm
Match played at Bangor City Stadium | Attendance: 0
Connah’s Quay Nomads recorded one of Welsh football’s greatest ever European results on Thursday evening, beating Finnish giants, HJK Helsinki, by one goal to nil in the UEFA Europa League First Qualifying Round first leg.
The game was The Nomads’ reward for finishing second in the Welsh Premier League which guarantueed them entry into Europe, but the odds of any success were stacked against them when they were drawn against Finnish side HJK Helsinki who sit top of the Finnish Veikkausliiga, and last won 13-0 on aggregate when faced with a Welsh side.
The Nomads came into the game off the back of strong performances against Northern Ireland’s Ballymena and Scotland’s St Johnstone, whilst HJK Helsinki had strengthened their position at the top of their league with a 2-0 win over IFK Mariehamm.
The Nomads started with a lineup including George Horan, Nathan Woolfe and Mike Pearson who was making his competitive debut for the Club. HJK announced a formidable lineup including international players Anthony Annan and Evans Mensah.
The game began and HJK soon showed their class with a smooth passing display across the pitch. Their passing opened up The Nomads, allowing Onovo a chance on goal, but his shot was blocked by Danby.
From then the precedent was set, with HJK continuously attacking The Nomads’ end only for their efforts to be blocked or deflected. Demba Savage threatened with a wicked shot in the 19th minute, but the shot sailed wide.
With 30 minutes played The Nomads’ organisation at the back was paying dividends, as they had been dealing with onslaughts of attack from HJK well.
Against the run of play, Nomads took the lead in the 38th minute.
A free kick was awarded to The Nomads around 35 yards from goal, which Pearson played short to Nathan Woolfe, who sent a whipped cross into the box which evaded all to bound past HJK keeper Uusitalo and into the net off the post.
This shock lead saw The Nomads grow in confidence, and finish the first half strongly. They returned in buoyant fashion in the second half, seeing more of the ball in the first 10 minutes after the restart.
Callum Morris forced Uusitalo into a low save, before a Jay Owen header nearly crept into the bottom left corner if not for a similar stop from the HJK goalkeeper.
Eager to equalise, HJK soon hit back and created a number of dangerous chances in The Nomads' area. The likes of Pelvas and Obilor sent powerful efforts into the area, but they stayed out thanks to a tireless Nomads defence.
The Nomads made a change with Declan Poole replaced by Ryan Wignall, whose pace and strength was vital for The Nomads as HJK threw everything at the home side in search of a result.
The game entered its final stage and as the crowd began to sense a famous victory, HJK came ever closer to breaking The Nomads down. HJK were awarded four set pieces in The Nomads' half during the final minutes of the game, but all chances were missed and The Nomads edged closer to the historic result.
After four minutes of injury time, full time was confirmed. Despite the result being a first leg victory, it stands as one of the best results in Welsh football’s illustrious history as The Nomads had beaten a full time, professional, vastly experienced European side.
The Nomads now move onto a challenging second leg at HJK Helsinki’s Telia 5G Arena on Thursday 6 July for a 7:00pm kick off.
Match report by Will Catterall
1. John Danby
3. Kai Edwards
5. George Horan
2. Mike Pearson
15. Sean Smith
6. Danny Harrison
12. Declan Poole
8. Callum Morris
16. Jay Owen
11. Nathan Woolfe
9. Michael Wilde
28. Jon Rushton
7. Ryan Wignall
10. Matty Williams
14. Matty Owen
18. Joe Heath
19. Jake Phillips
66. Conor Harwood
The Nomads' Goalscorers