Report: Peter Wilson
Photo: Bill Guiller
Larne made history by getting past Bala Town in their first ever Europa Conference League game, defeating their Welsh opponents 1-0 at Inver Park with a 2-0 aggregate score.
Ronan Hale produced a wonder goal six minutes from time to add to Davy McDaid’s early score from the first leg at TNS Stadium to send Larne through to face AGF Aarhus in the Second Qualifying Round, much to the home fans’ delight.
The visitors got proceedings underway at Inver Park with Larne attacking the McKay Stand end, but the hosts’ first effort of note came with nine minutes on the clock as Davy McDaid had a go from around 30 yards out, but the ball dipped over the bar.
Just two minutes later, the Invermen had a decent chance when Lee Lynch received Dean Jarvis’ cross from the left before taking the ball round a Bala defender and firing straight at Alex Ramsay from 20 yards out.
Bala came close to edging in front on 12 when David Edwards flicked on from a corner to William Evans at the back post, but the number eight headed just over the bar.
With 24 minutes gone, the away side were appealing for a penalty after Evans went down in the area, but the referee waved them away.
On half an hour, Mark Randall curled an inviting ball in from the left wing deep into the box towards the right post, but Ramsay gathered.
Three minutes later Larne came close to opening the scoring. Randall whipped the corner in from the right, but the ball ended up in the side-netting after John Herron’s touch rebounded and went behind for a goal kick.
With three minutes to go until half time, Lynch played the ball into Jarvis from the edge of the area on the left. The number 26 flashed his shot only narrowly wide of goal.
Half-time: Larne 0 Bala Town 0 (Agg 1-0)
Davy McDaid got play underway in the second half with Larne attacking the newly opened Church End stand.
Just after the hour mark, Fuad Sule went in the book for a challenge on Bala’s Lassana Mendes.
With 65 minutes gone, Conor McKendry, who had not long come off the bench, saw his low shot saved by Ramsay as Larne went in search of the opening goal of the night.
With just over 20 minutes left, Marty Donnelly was left wondering how he didn’t break the deadlock. His first effort from four yards out was blocked by a defender while his follow-up was blocked by a brilliant stop from Bala ‘keeper Ramsay.
On 83 minutes another substitute, Ronan Hale, had a low strike from 23 yards edge just wide of the front post.
A minute later, Hale did not miss the target however, as his wonder shot from outside the box on the left-hand side looped over Alex Ramsay into the top right corner, to seal progress for the home side.
The will now take on AGF Aarhus at Inver Park on Thursday 22nd July (7.30pm), with the return leg at Ceres Park a week later.
Full-time: Larne 1 Bala Town 0 (Agg 2-0)
Larne: Ferguson, Balmer (Watson 78), Herron, Sule, Randall (Donnelly 67), McDaid (Hale 78), Lynch (McKendry 55), Bolger, Cosgrove, Hughes (c), Jarvis
Unused Subs: Argyrides, Kelly, Robinson, Scott, Mitchell, Lusty
Bala Town: Ramsay, Woods (Walker-Rice 83), Spittle, Mendes (Leslie 72), Evans, K Smith (S Smith 83), Kay, Rutherford (Bauress 67), Edwards, Venables (c), Shannon
Unused Subs: Lloyd, Peate, Stephens
Referee: Dario Bel (Croatia)