Belfast Telegraph

Andy Mitchell targets one more miracle

By Graham Luney

Andy Mitchell has praised Crusaders for their professional approach on the continent.

The Crues have progressed in European competition for the second year running and their stunning victory over Levadia Tallinn was a first ever Champions League triumph.

The incredible journey continues tonight when Skenderbeu arrive at Seaview (7.45pm) with a healthy 4-1 advantage after the first leg of the second qualifying round tie in Albania.

Only a remarkable fightback will keep Crusaders' European dream alive but the players and management have enjoyed this adventure so much that no-one in the home dressing room believes the fight is over.

Skenderbeu are a more powerful side than Levadia Tallinn but they have yet to win on their travels in Europe and if they believe the job is done the Danske Bank Premiership champions could give them a massive wake-up call.

A clash against Bulgarian side Ludogorets or Moldovans Milsami in the third qualifying round await the winners though Crusaders will have to achieve their goal without Paul Heatley who is on holiday.

Former Rangers startlet Mitchell, who joined the Crues this summer, has shone in the centre of midfield and has been impressed by the club's preparation and mentality in tough European assignments.

"I have to say the club should be commended for their preparations as I felt they adopted a very professional approach and everything was done to make sure the players were ready for the games," said the 23-year-old from Glengormley.

"From the charter flights to training, down time and recovery, the club has showed great professionalism and it makes a big difference when your preparation is right. The boys have loved every bit of it so far."

The European battles are perfect preparation for the Crues' title defence and the away goals success in Estonia, courtesy of Michael Carvill's cool finish, is a night the club will cherish for a long time.

"Michael scored a fantastic goal in Tallinn and the boys were buzzing after making history," added Mitchell, who joined Manchester City when he was only 13-years old.

"Over the two legs I felt we were the better side and the European money is a fantastic bonus for the club.

"The story isn't over yet though and hopefully we can perform one more shock.

"We are the underdogs, of course, and in the first leg we weren't sure of what to expect but we came up against a very strong team and they have talented players who can hurt you.

"They are full-time, have internationals and against that noisy crowd we had a real fight on our hands.

"We did frustrate them but the two late goals were damaging."

Crues skipper Colin Coates is available for selection again after returning from his holiday in France but Jordan Forsythe remains sidelined with an ankle injury.

The odds may be stacked against the Hatchetmen but the mood on the Shore Road is that if the Crues are going out of Europe they aren't leaving without a fight.

Mitchell added: "They won't relish coming to Seaview and if we can get the first goal let's see how they react. They will feel the pressure.

"If we had lost 3-1 out there it might have been a fair scoreline but 4-1 is a bit harsh.

"But this is an Irish League side in the Champions League and it's been a phenomenal experience for everyone.

"We could have faced local teams in pre-season at Seaview and it would have been less rewarding or enjoyable.

"We'll be working our socks off to get through and show the hunger, desire and commitment that will be required but it's a huge challenge against a team which is fitter and stronger than us.

"Whatever happens this has been an amazing experience for everyone and a dream start for me at the club."

Belfast Telegraph


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