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Blankety-blank night for Cliftonville

Cliftonville 0 - Debrecen 0

By Conor McLaughlin

Tommy Breslin hailed his players' attitude as Cliftonville secured a battling scoreless draw in the first leg of their Champions League second qualifying round tie with Debrecen.

Huge favourites to progress to the next stage, the Hungarians were in the end grateful to goalkeeper Nenad Novakovic, whose string of saves prevented the Reds from carrying a lead into next week's return meeting.

The visitors were not without chances of their own and, after hitting the underside of the crossbar through Ibrahima Sidibe, substitute L'imam Seydi lashed a golden injury-time opportunity wildly over the top.

Despite those scares, Cliftonville were good value for the draw and Breslin was fulsome in his praise for the home side.

"Most of our players spent their day at work and then came to play in a Champions League match at night – that puts it in perspective," he said.

"Debrecen are full-time professionals so to play the way we did against them was very pleasing and the fact we've come away with a draw and a clean sheet is fantastic.

"Who knows what could happen over there – we might just need the bounce of the ball to go in our favour for us to get a goal and we could be in dreamland.

"It will be very tough but that's another week away. Right now, I'm just very proud of my team for how they've performed in such testing conditions.

"Debrecen have been in the group stages of the Champions League in recent years and have designs on getting there again, so this is a very good result for us," he added.

"After seeing Linfield, Crusaders and Glenavon do so well in Europe already this summer, we didn't want to be the odd club out. I knew we would need a great performance to get anything from the game and thankfully the players delivered.

"Their attitude was excellent from the start and they can be very proud of their efforts," added Breslin.

Though the Hungarians enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening exchanges, it was Cliftonville who first threatened with Chris Curran's low drive bringing a fine fingertip save from Novakovic.

From the resulting corner, the keeper excelled himself further, lunging across goal to deny Joe Gormley just when the striker looked odds-on to break the deadlock.

Alexsandar Jovanovic threatened with a brace of headers as Loki – as they are affectionately known in their homeland – enjoyed a strong end to the opening half, with Conor Devlin denying Adam Bodi before Jozsef Varga was inches away from nodding home.

After the interval, Martin Donnelly dragged an attempt wide of the mark but home hearts were in their mouths shortly afterwards when Sidibe's placed strike cannoned off the underside of the bar and bounced on the line before a relieved Devlin gathered possession.

Though Debrecen looked dangerous going forward, Cliftonville continued to give them plenty to think about and, after Novakovic had flapped at a corner, the keeper redeemed himself by saving Ronan Scannell's follow-up.

He was also called into action to repel a stinging Curran drive soon after as the Reds pressed for the breakthrough.

Harsh as it would have been on the Reds, the visitors almost snatched victory in the depths of injury-time when Selim Bouadla drew a smart save from Devlin ahead of Seydi thundering over the top just when the travelling fans behind the goal were poised for celebrations.

But that would have been harsh on Cliftonville who now head to Hungary with at least a glimmer of hope after this battling performance.

CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, R Scannell, Johnston, Flynn, Curran, Donnelly, Seydak, Catney, Gormley, Cosgrove. Subs: Brown, McMullan (for Seydak, 82 mins), Garrett (for Donnelly, 63 mins), Smyth, Winchester, Murray (for Gormley, 90 mins), Caldwell.

DEBRECEN: Novakovic, Bouadla, Lazar, Meszaros, Mate, Sidibe, Bodi, Varga, Tisza, Korhut, Jovanovic. Subs: Poleksic, Damahou, Zsidai (for Jovanovic, 84 mins), Mihelic (for Bodi, 78 mins), Morozov, Brkovic, Seydi (for Tisza, 46 mins).

Referee: Artur Manuel Ribeiro Soares Dias (Portugal)

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