Still all to play for next week!
The Lakesiders left Stockholm with their heads held high on Thursday night following a narrow 2-0 defeat against AIK and can be incredibly proud of their spirited defensive performance.
Previous results by Welsh Premier clubs in the Europa League have been disappointing in the last 20 years or so but Town have all to play for coming back to Rhyl next Thursday especially after last season’s home result against FC Differdange 03 as inspiration.
Our opponents who are a fulltime professional outfit made life difficult for the Lakesiders from the outset, Morris and his back four were under severe pressure in the opening stages but held their own through solid defending and a couple of spectacular saves by the Town shotstopper.
Ishizaki and Strandberg were AIK threats but Bala had chances of their own.
A superb crossfield ball from Connolly picked out Sheridan but the AIK defenders were able to clear the danger. Connolly also drive a shot wide of the post
The home side should’ve taken the lead when a quick break down the wing led to Strandberg turning the defensive but buried his shot into the side netting.
After 20 minutes, AIK broke the deadlock through a wonderful top corner 18 yard volley by Affane but this didn’t worry the Lakesiders who until that point defended well.
David Thompson handballed on the edge of the 18 for a freekick to be awarded but it a wasteful kick by the home side. A perfectly-timed tackle by Sheridan in the box brought penalty shouts by AIK minutes later but the referee waved it away minutes later.
Town were having to work extremely hard but were doing so brilliantly.
Minutes before the halftime interval, a quick burst of pace by AIK down the wing and a ball crossed into the box hit the base of the post by Isak but Bala held on going into halftime only trailing 1-0.
Bala came out brightly for the second half. Immediately from the whistle they won a throw midway into the attacking half which Thompson delivered to find Burke who fired the ball over the crossbar.
Affane drove a ball comfortably over the bar from 30 yards but it was soon 2-0 to AIK.
A corner swung in to the far post was scooped over Morris from 9 yards out by Johansson with 52 minutes on the clock.
Down the other end, Town looked to respond when Stuart Jones connected with Smith’s corner but his looping header was gathered by Carlgren.
The Town management looked to change things with Hayes, Jones and Crowther brought on for Thompson, Connolly and Burke.
Hayes came close instantly after coming on, running onto a throughball from midfield but sent the ball over the woodwork.
AIK however were looking to their tally, numerous successive corners were delivered into the area but Davies, Jones, Stephens, Jones and Valentine were putting their bodies on the line and blocking every attempt.
Town broke suddenly through great vision from midfield but the ball was slightly overhit for Hayes on the break.
Man of the Match Morris made a sublime one handed reaction save to deny midfielder Christos Gravius and earning a round of applause by the 6,000 strong home crowd in the breathtaking 30,000 seater Tele2 Arena.
Kpozo drove into the area down the other end but his chance flashed across the face of goal before Strandberg missed a golden opportunity after turning Davies but his finish went inches wide of the upright.
Kieran Smith allowed Hayes to break with a defence splitting ball but the forward’s powerful strike was saved by Carlgren in injury time.
At the final whistle, the Lakesiders were given a standing ovation by the AIK’s North Stand faithful as Town waved back to them,
With respect earned, the Lakesiders can be incredibly proud of their battling performance and be positive that the game is all still to play for next week.
The dream is still very much alive.
Thank you to AIK and their supporters for their warm welcome at the Tele2 Arena and safe journey home to all the Town contingent.