New boy David Kee gives Linfield big chance of success
Linfield tasted defeat in Slovakia but boss Warren Feeney said they were returning home to Northern Ireland as heroes.
The Irish League side were given little hope against slick outfit Spartak Trnava but a wonderful strike from new signing David Kee has given the Blues a fighting chance in the rematch at Windsor Park on Thursday night.
The hosts, who were reduced to 10 men before the break when Milos Nikolic was dismissed, know they have a real fight on their hands and their 2-1 advantage leaves the Europa League second qualifying tie delicately balanced.
The Slovakian giants took the lead with a penalty from captain Erik Sabo.
Kee levelled with a sublime free-kick from the edge of the box but Martin Mikovic restored his side's lead from close range.
Feeney said: "Heroic defeat are the words I'm looking for.
"It was an absolutely outstanding performance and the boys were very disciplined and willing to battle for one another.
"I'm proud of the performance but also a little disappointed as it was never a penalty in a million years and Chris Hegarty's headed effort was never offside.
"For the first 10 minutes they were the better side but we showed tremendous desire and hunger and they now know what we are all about. They will show us respect and I'd love to see a big crowd at Windsor on Thursday night for what should be a great game. We have a chance but we will keep our feet on the ground."
The game was staged at the ViOn Stadium as, like Linfield, Trnava's own home ground is undergoing redevelopment but the hosts looked comfortable in their surroundings early on as they started quickly and Haris Harba struck the top of the crossbar with a header after two minutes of play.
With Sean Ward unavailable, and fellow defender Jimmy Callacher injured during a weekend friendly, Mark Haughey had come into the side as the only change from last week's away goals victory over NSI Runavik but, after shipping four goals in that game, Linfield didn't look any more solid in the opening stages and Habra went close again soon after.
The home side's breakthrough would come with a quarter of an hour gone when goalkeeper Ross Glendinning was adjudged to have fouled Martin Mikovic inside the box. Captain Erik Sabo stepped up to take the kick and the Slovakian international had no trouble from the spot.
The all-important away goal would come just minutes later, however, thanks to a spectacular effort from Kee.
The summer signing from Ballinamallard United scored his first Blues goal from a free-kick on the edge of the box after Milos Nikolic had fouled Andy Waterworth, a challenge that brought a yellow card for the home defender.
The Fortuna Liga side grabbed the winning goal 10 minutes before the break after Linfield failed to clear following a spell of pressure and Mikovic, having previously won the penalty, fired home from close range.
Trnava, European Cup semi-finalists in 1969 when they were beaten 3-2 on aggregate by Johan Cruyff's Ajax, tried to press home the advantage before half-time but their attempts were derailed, first by a good save from Glendinning to deny Emir Halilovic, and then a second yellow for Nikolic after the midfielder clashed with Ivan Sproule.
The red card forced Juraj Jarábek into a reshuffle at the break with Milan Bortel brought on as an extra defender in place of the dangerous Habra. With five minutes to go, Linfield did have the ball in the net only for the assistant referee to flag for offside after Chris Hegarty nodded home a Ross Clarke set-piece while Glendinning was also forced into a number of saves.
FC Spartak Trnava: Jakubech, Toth (Gressak, 70), Conka, Godal, Baez, Mikovic, Jose Casado (Mikinic, 64), Nikolic, Sabo, Halilovic, Harba (Bortel, 46). Unused subs: Knezevic, Vojtus, Schranz.
Linfield: Glendinning, Hegarty, Haughey, Matthew Clarke, Reece Glendinning, Lowry, Burns (R.Clarke, 57), Kee, Waterworth, Bates, Sproule. Unused subs: Deane, Millar, Murray, Mulgrew, Wallace, Quinn.
Referee: Mikhail Vilkov