After losing 2-0 in the first leg to Croatian champions, HNK Rijeka, The New Saints’ recently appointed manager Scott Ruscoe believes that his team could still progress to the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round as the Welsh champions prepare for the second leg at Park Hall on Tuesday, 18 July at 19:00.
“We’re still in the game. It’s two goals, we’re at home, playing on the 3G. They might not like playing on the 3G. The tie is not dead in the water so we’ll go again.”
Rijeka went ahead after four minutes of the first leg when Croatian international Josip Mišić struck a free kick from the edge of the penalty area over the wall and into the back of the net.
The New Saints defended well throughout the remainder of the first half, but the home side doubled their lead with 20 minutes of play remaining – Stefan Ristovski finding Florentin Matei free in the box to tap-in Rijeka’s second.
Scott Ruscoe’s Saints did get a sniff of an away goal when Scott Quigley almost latched on to a loose ball but was beaten to it by the Croatian keeper.
Quigley, who scored three goals for TNS in the first qualifying round against Europa FC of Gibraltar later found himself in a great position to square the ball to Jamie Mullan who faced an open goal by the penalty spot, but Quigley regrettably decided to shoot himself and hit the side-netting.
“He’s got himself in a good position, I won’t criticise Scott Quigley, but all I’ve told him is about decision making. When you’re in that position, make the right decision.”
HNK Rijeka tipped Dinamo Zagreb to the top of the Croatian League in 2016/17, bringing Zagreb’s run of 11 consecutive titles to an end.
Rijeka’s side were full of talented internationals such as Mario Gavranović (11 caps for Switzerland), Stefan Ristovski (33 caps for Macedonia) and Josip Mišić (2 caps for Croatia), but Scott Ruscoe’s message to his players ahead of the second leg was a clear one:
“Believe in what we do, believe in each other, and stick together.”
The New Saints (0) v (2) HNK Rijeka – 19:00, 18/07/17 (Park Hall)
The winners will face either Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) or Hibernian (Malta) in the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round.