Sligo Rovers will host Welsh side Bala Town at the Showgrounds on Thursday evening.
This will be the pairs second leg, of their Europa Conference League first round qualification tie.
The Bit O’ Red hold a narrow 2-1 advantage heading into the game from the first leg encounter in Oswestry.
Lassana Mendes opened the scoring for Bala Town with about five minutes gone in the game. Sligo’s star-man Aidan Keena showed why he earned his new contract extension by equalising. Finally, Max Mata grabbed the winner with a fabulous solo effort early into the second half.
Unfortunately, for Sligo boss Johnny Russell, he’ll be without defender Nando Pijnaker. The New Zealander received a straight red, after taking down Bala midfielder David Edwards as the last man.
When the initial draw was made, this seemed like a relatively favourable tie for Sligo.
While they’re in pole position to qualify, this one is certainly far from a foregone conclusion.
The West of Ireland natives were well represented by their travelling supporters in the first leg. And a sell-out crowd is expected for this return home fixture.
With a potential second round clash against Scottish club Motherwell on the cards, Sligo will be desperate to put last season’s disappointing European run behind them, and get the job done on Thursday night.
Before that, let’s get to know Bala Town a bit more before they touch down on the Emerald Isle.
There are old historical records showing a club playing competitive football in Bala as far back as 1877.
However, the club in its current incarnation was officially founded 142 years ago, in 1880.
When Bala North End, Bala South End, and Bala Thursday’s all merged, it was then Bala Town entered the Welsh National League system ahead of the 1921/22 campaign.
Bala Town currently plies their trade in the top-tier of Welsh football, in the Cymru Premier.
They finished second in the most recent 2021/22 season, a staggering 21 points behind league winners, TNS. However, Bala went on an excellent eight game winning run to secure a potentially lucrative Europa Conference League slot.
The Lakesiders only made their European debut back in 2013, when playing Estonia’s Levadia Tallinn in the first round of qualification for that years Europa League competition, narrowly losing 3-2 on aggregate.
In their short history they clashed against Swedish big-boys AIK in the 2016/17 Europa League, Belgium’s Standard Liege in the 2020/21 Europa League second qualification round, which is the furthest Bala have gone in any major UEFA European tournament.
Most recently, they faced Larne from Northern Ireland in the first qualifying round of last seasons Europa League Conference, getting knocked out after a 2-0 defeat on aggregate.
Can They Turn This Tie Around?
Goal-scorer, Lassana Mendes looked like a major bright spark with his willing forward runs. Plus, Ollie Southern got down the flanks well during his cameo appearance off the bench, and could cause trouble if he starts the game.
Experienced professionals like Anthony Kay, and David Edwards, who played in the Premier League for three seasons with Wolves and has been capped 43 times for Wales, will need to be called upon, if Bala Town are to face Motherwell in the second round.
It’s shaping up to be a tense, yet memorable night out West on Thursday.
Everyone here at the Big Kick Off will be rooting for Sligo Rovers, along with every other League of Ireland side in Europe.
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