The New Saints concede five in Ludogorets loss
Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad scored five goals to underline their quality and leave the Europa League hopes of The New Saints hanging by a thread, writes Stuart Dunn.
Champions of Bulgaria for the last eight seasons, Ludogorets, who included a number of internationals in their side, delivered a strong attacking display.
It always promised to be a challenging night for Oswestry-based Saints at the Ludogorets Arena, which has hosted European ties against the likes of AC Milan, Arsenal, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid in recent years.
And that’s just how it proved as Ludogorets quickly signalled their attacking intent by going in search of early goals.
They took a 10th-minute lead when Mavis Tchibota drilled a shot against the post and the ball rebounded in off visiting defender Ryan Harrington.
Ludogorets doubled their advantage just before the half-hour as Tchibota ran on to a through-ball from Claudiu Keseru and neatly rounded goalkeeper Paul Harrison before slotting home.
Scott Ruscoe’s side, knocked out of the Champions League by Danish giants FC Copenhagen last week, fell further behind two minutes before the break when Jody Lukoki pounced to make it 3-0.
Ludogorets extended their lead in the 65th minute as Tchibota crossed for Romanian international striker Keseru to score. Then skipper Cosmin Moti added a fifth, converting the rebound after his 76th-minute penalty was initially well saved by Harrison.
Ryan Brobbel came closest to grabbing an away goal for Saints in the third qualifying round clash when his late effort was stopped by goalkeeper Plamen Iliev.
The second leg will be played next Thursday at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground, the sixth European tie of the season for the Welsh champions.
The New Saints: Harrison, Spender (Lewis 69), Harrington, Davies (Hudson 46), Marriott, Routledge, Edwards, Mullan, Brobbel, Redmond, Ebbe (Draper 61). Unused subs: Cieslewicz, Nembhard, Lewis, Whitehouse, Roberts.