The Lakesiders will head to West Ireland looking to overcome a one goal deficit having suffered a narrow defeat to Sligo Rovers in our first leg UECL tie at Park Hall.
It was a dream start to our 2022 Europa Conference League campaign when Lassana Mendes smashed the ball home to give us an early lead only five minutes into proceedings. Sligo would then equalise 20 minutes later and grab the advantage following half-time. They were reduced to ten men late on but Bala were unable to capitalise as we head to West Ireland for the second leg trailing by one goal.
Magic Mendes Hands Us A Dream Start
It was a bright start for Bala who looked far from fazed facing a professional Irish side in good form heading into the tie. Kieran Smith had a half-chance blocked as the Lakesiders started the game on the front foot.
Moments later, we had the lead. The ball fell kindly to Lassana Mendes in the area who hammered home the opener stunning the 500 or so travelling support from Ireland as Bala took a shock lead at Park Hall.
Following the goal, Sligo started to grow into the game as they piled some pressure on the Bala backline. Alex Ramsay was tested for the first time just after ten minutes was played when William Fitzgerald fizzed a low-driven effort in his direction with Ramsay pulling off a brilliant save to preserve our lead.
Kenna Cancels Out Our Opener
Max Mata and Aidan Kenna were the frontmen for The Bit O'Reds and their first involvement came in the 24th minute when Mata struck the post from close range in a tense moment for the Lakesiders. Although it was his partner that would eventually find the net moments later as Kenna provided a moment of individual brilliance. The striker clutching the ball into his possession before placing it over Ramsay.
The Lakesiders looked unaffected by the opposition's equaliser as we continued to look to cause the visitors problems with every attack. Chris Venables looked to pull off the spectacular to regain our lead when he attempted an acrobatic effort inside the area, but his superb shot was matched with a super save.
With the half drawing to a close, Sligo looked to try snatch a second. Keena searched for it with an ambitious effort from range but the ball blazed over the bar with scores remaining equal at half-time.
Mata Makes Bala Pay
Following the interval, Mata looked lively as he continued to ask questions of the Bala backline. He had a great chance to give his side the lead when he ran through on goal surrounded by defenders but his effort was tipped past the post by Ramsay. From a following corner, Mata got the goal his side were searching for. Bala failed to clear a ball in the box which led to the striker tapping in a cool finish from close range that sent the away section into raptures.
Chances came for Colin Caton's men to equalise with Venables leading the line. As the captain was involved in every attack Bala threw at our opposition. It was the visitors' No9 however who went closest to a fourth goal of the match as against the run of play Keena was played through for Sligo but was unable to beat Ramsay who saved well.
Sligo Suffer A Red Card
Bala's hopes of a result from the first leg were boosted with ten minutes remaining when star man Nando Pijnaker received his marching orders from the referee. The New Zealand international was shown a straight red card having taken down Dave Edwards as the last man.
A late chance for Smith saw his effort cleared off the line with The Bit O'Reds packed out in front of their goal. While uproar soon followed when penalty claims were ignored by the referee late on following a clumsy challenge on Mendes who had appeared to have been tripped in the area.
Sligo did hang on to their slender lead to head into the second leg with the advantage.
The tie is far from over as we head to Ireland next week. The Lakesiders will need to win at The Showgrounds to have any hope of qualifying for the second round.
Tickets are still available for the second leg which takes place on Thursday, July 14th at The Showgrounds.