An outstanding victory and performance weren't enough for the Lakesiders in Ireland as we bowed out on penalties following a 2-2 aggregate score against Sligo Rovers.
The Lakesiders headed to Ireland knowing they needed a win in order to have any chance of progressing. Colin Caton's men achieved the victory thanks to a first-half goal by Dave Edwards sending the game into extra-time followed by penalties. The game involved a hat full of chances that could have seen Bala progress yet luck was against us as well as a superb individual performance by The Bit O'Reds' shot-stopper Edward McGinty.
Smith stings McGinty's palms
The Lakesiders pressed to blow the tie wide open from the word go. With Sligo feeling the early pressure as a sell-out crowd cheering their side on packed out the stands. Kieran Smith looked to take advantage of some Bala possession with a shot from distance in the opening 15 minutes which was struck sweetly as it forced McGinty into pulling off a full stretch save.
Morahan misses from close range
Our opposition's first opportunity came 20 minutes in as a corner whipped into the mix was headed just past the post by Niall Morahan in a chance that went begging. The Bala backline would be there to deny most attacks Sligo threw at them in the opening half with Nathan Peate and Antony Kay making their presence known at the back. With that Aidan Keena and Max Mata both struggled to create any kind of openings for their side.
Dangerous Dave gives us the lead!
Following a period of possession for Sligo, the Lakesiders broke forward looking to cause some danger. Suddenly struck Dave Edwards. Our No19 found space in the area to get on the end of an inviting cross by Brad Bauress and direct the ball past McGinty to silence The Showgrounds. This meant that at half-time the Lakesiders deservedly led with Sligo left stunned following Edwards' opener.
Golden opportunity for Davies
Following the break, Lassana Mendes had a similar opportunity to that of the first leg which he scored. The ball fell kindly on the edge of the area with space for the midfielder to strike with real intent but it was straight in the direction of the Sligo shot-stopper. Off the bench came James Davies in the second-half following an injury to Paul Rutherford. The forward was straight into the thick of the action and had the best chance of the half to double our advantage as he left a defender for dead with our summer signing through on goal but he appeared to have too much time with the goal bearing as he was unable to round the goalkeeper with the opportunity vanishing.
Another chance fell to the Lakesiders late on with a possibility to leave our opponents no time to respond as a late effort by Kay was denied once again by the Man of the Match, McGinty.
Extra-time sees Bala blast the bar, twice!
Luke Wall was on for his competitive debut ahead of extra-time and made a strong first impression when he delivered a brilliant ball into the box from a free-kick with a looping header going over the goalkeeper and only just cleared away by the Sligo defence. Two minutes later another chance fell for the Lakesiders as this time Venables found space to break and play in Edwards for a free shot on goal with his strike straight at McGinty in net.
The Bit O'Reds had an opportunity late in the first-half of extra-time as the Bala backline somehow managed to prevent the ball creeping in goalwards following a scramble in the box. With ten minutes of extra-time remaining a goal looked destined as Venables struck the bar with a header and the follow-up from less than five yards out thumping the woodwork once more this time by Wall who was in disbelief at how the ball hadn't crossed the line. Following a frantic extra 30 minutes, Bala were unable to take advantage of these crucial chances with our second qualifying round hopes resting on penalties.
Painful penalties heartbreak for the Lakesiders
Towards a packed-out home end, the captain, Venables stood up to take the first of our five penalties. With all the confidence in the world, he blasted the ball past McGinty who had no chance in net. David Cawley was first to take for Sligo and he effortlessly found the target to bring the scores level. It would be our third penalty to be the first to not be converted as Jonny Spittle's shot was matched with a brilliant save by the man of the moment in goal. John Russell's men would go on to convert their next couple of penalties as well as Kay leaving Wall needing to convert to keep our hopes alive. However, it wasn't to be as the heroic McGinty pulled out all the stops to prevent us from reaching the next round with another special save to send Sligo through.
The story of the tie will be how Bala hadn't won the round in normal or extra-time at The Showgrounds, yet Sligo will have one man to thank for that, Edward McGinty.
Up next for the Lakesiders will be the Warrington Rylands who visit Maes Tegid for a pre-season friendly next Saturday, July 23rd with kick-off at 14:00.