Gerard Lyttle hails Ross Lavery's big impact as Cliftonville draw plenty of comfort at Differdange
FC Differdange 1-1 Cliftonville
Cliftonville will be confident of progressing in the Europa League after Ross Lavery's late equaliser secured a 1-1 draw against FC Differdange.
A defeat looked on the cards for the Reds in Luxembourg until the super substitute from Moy in County Tyrone had the final say in the 89th minute.
The 19-year-old, a 67th-minute replacement for Martin Donnelly at Stade Municipal de la Ville, produced the header that gives Gerard Lyttle's side a strong chance of emerging victorious after Thursday's second leg at Solitude.
Midfielder Lavery, who made three appearances as a substitute last season, couldn't have dreamed of making a bigger impact and his goal keeps the north Belfast side on course for a possible meeting with Larnaca of Cyprus in the second qualifying round.
Lyttle said: "The aim was to come here and at least get a goal and we worked very hard against a team we knew very little about.
"We were a different team in the second-half. We had a go at them and all the boys were first class.
"Ross came through our youth system and I am delighted for him.
"This is a dream come true for him and he has lots of talent, ability, energy and strength."
Without the suspended Jaimie McGovern, the visitors knew they had to put in a resilient performance but their task became more daunting when Omar Er Rafik opened the scoring in the 38th minute.
But the Solitude aces did create several goalscoring chances and the travelling Red Army warmly welcomed the precious away goal.
After friendly wins over Finn Harps and Connah's Quay Nomads, this clash was going to be a genuine test of the players' match fitness levels but the visitors put in a spirited display.
The hosts opened the scoring in the 38th minute, Er Rafik beating debutant keeper Jason Mooney after being set up by Pedro Ribeiro.
In the 56th minute, David McDaid was introduced for Daniel Hughes as the north Belfast side looked to cause the home defence more headaches.
Martin Donnelly continued to threaten for the visitors but couldn't find the killer touch and was replaced by Lavery on 67 minutes.
At times Cliftonville were living dangerously and substitute Dejvid Sinani's shot was blocked but there was to be one last twist in the tale.
Jay Donnelly picked out Lavery in the 89th minute and the midfielder powered his header beyond Julien Weber.
It's a result the Reds will feel they deserve and that away goal could prove decisive after the second leg is completed at Solitude next Thursday.
Differdange: Weber, Rodrigues, Siebenaler (Bukvic 71), May, Pedro Ribeiro (Sinani 67), Er Rafik, Yeye (Lascak 81), Vandenbroek, Janisch, Franzoni, Luisi.
Cliftonville: J Mooney, Ives, Bonner, McGuinness, Curran (Murray 85), Knowles, M Donnelly (Lavery 67), Hughes (McDaid 58), Catney, Winchester, J Donnelly.
Referee: Ignasi Villamayor Rozados (Romania)