Champions League: Battle-hardened The New Saints set to make changes for latest European challenge.
At 12/1 outsiders, The New Saints are going to need to an upset of Connah’s Quay proportions if they are to upset Danish Superliga champions FC Copenhagen in their first-leg tie at Park Hall this evening.
In the aftermath of the Nomads’ famous and soon-to-be folklore win over Kilmarnock last Thursday, The New Saints’ own unlikely comeback against Feronikeli has been a little overlooked.
The manner of Saints’ swashbuckling win out in Kosovo was a coming of age moment for Scott Ruscoe’s team. ‘Having to find a way’ and actually ‘finding a way’ are two very different things but The New Saints had the resilience and technical ability to breathe new life into their European campaign.
There is an all-too rare feel good factor emanating from Welsh domestic football at this moment: the successes of the clubs in European competition currently stands at three wins, two draws, and three losses – a clear improvement on some off the lacklustre return of results we’ve witnessed in some previous years, and the top two tiers of the domestic game are undergoing a re-brand, which will is part of a strategy to bring the second tier closer inline with the top division.
The good times continue to roll for The New Saints also. Having not only booked themselves another spinning European tie by defeating Feronikeli, in reaching the second qualifying round of the Champions League, the club have given themselves a guaranteed safety net of an additional four games.
The winners of this latest tie will advance to face Red Star Belgrade or HJK (Finland), the losers will drop down into the Europa League third round where they would play Vadur (Iceland) or the Bulgarians Ludogorets Razgrad.
The New Saints are of course familiar with Danish opposition having lost to Midtjylland 5-1 on aggregate last year. Scott Ruscoe believes that FC Copenhagen are a cut above, having finished comfortably ahead of Midtjylland in the Danish Superliga last season.
“We did very well against Midtjylland across two-legs, certainly away from home, where we very well in some spells but Copenhagen are one step above Midtjylland. “It’s an even harder task than last season – we are not worried about it, we will embrace it,” he said.
With the knowledge of a further European game already secured, The New Saints can indeed embrace their latest Danish test. The team have galvanised themselves after coming through their tie against Feronikeli, battle-hardened and a little more streetwise from their recent experiences, The New Saints will at the very least have the capacity to ask questions of FC Copenhagen, if not able to control the tie.
“The boys are looking forward to it – there’s a togetherness, a work ethic, there’s a team spirit so let’s enjoy the evening,” added Ruscoe, he explained before revealing he his expecting to make changes to his team to face FC Copenhagen.
“We have a plan, we have a way of playing against Copenhagen, so there might be one or two that have to sit out and make an impact from the bench. That’s the way it is, that’s what we have gone with, that’s what we feel, but that’s not to say they can’t have an impact on the game.”
Blaine Hudson, whose absence was hard felt in the first-leg against Feronikeli is ruled out of a return here and the central defender is not expected back in training until early next week, which may put him in contention for the return-leg.
It is unclear whether full-back Chris Marriott will return meaning The New Saints are again reliant on their inexperienced centre-back pairing of Ryan Harrington (20) and Keston Davies (22) to give the team are a solid defensive platform.
The duo, who only arrived at the club this summer, looked unconvincing after being forced to play together in the first game against Feronikeli when Marriott was unable to continue but they pair defied expectations in Kosovo looking dependable, playing with a much-needed level of maturity in the heart of the Saints defence in Kosovo.
Ruscoe’s comments about making changes will again raise questions over striker Greg Draper’s role in the team. Fellow striker Dean Ebbe, who came off the bench to score the goal that sealed last week’s victory, could be amongst those in Ruscoe’s thoughts to start here, and he and Draper spent much of last season vying for a place in the Saints’ line-up.
Draper, indeed, being very much a player with the ability to come on and ‘have an impact on the game’.
The New Saints carry themselves into this game with nothing to lose.
The New Saints v FC Copenhagen
Uefa Champions League second qualifying round
Park Hall Stadium, 7.00
Live on BT Sport online