Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin hailed Liam Boyce after he blasted home to sink Kalmar and earn the Reds a first ever European victory at Solitude on Thursday night.
The striker was sprung from the bench with little more than 20 minutes to go and with virtually his first touch, weaved his way through a crowded goalmouth and pulled out an unstoppable shot that left visiting goalkeeper Etrit Berisha grasping at air.
“I’m delighted for Liam because he deserves a moment like that,” said Breslin.
“He’s a great kid who has worked so hard since coming back from Werder Bremen and though at times he’s sometimes tried to impress too much, he showed what he was all about with a goal of genuine quality.
“At the time, I was actually thinking that 0-0 wouldn’t be the worst result to take to Sweden next week because a goal for us would have left them needing two, but obviously the situation has changed for the better now and we’ll be going over there with something in our back pockets.
“I would expect them to come out and attack us a bit more in the second leg, because they need to score, but I’d also be confident that we can create chances.”
The Swedes looked ropey from the start and could have been behind after just 10 minutes only for Marc Smyth’s header to scale the crossbar, while the offside flag cut short celebrations after Ciaran Caldwell had bundled home.
A howler from goalkeeper Etrit Berisha almost gifted Ryan Catney a goal from virtually inside the centre circle, while the nearest Kalmar came to scoring for in the opening period came when Pape Diouf struck wide of the mark.
Kalmar improved slightly after the interval, but up against a busy Cliftonville midfield, where George McMullan had dictated proceedings from the first whistle, they simply could not find a way through, although Diouf did well to pick out a 62nd minute shot which Ryan Brown saved.
Boyce was then thrust into the action — and his impact was immediate.
Collecting possession just inside the penalty area, he showed neat feet to work his way into a shooting position before blasting low and hard into the bottom corner to make history and, having also netted against CSKA Sofia two years back, elevated himself to the top of Cliftonville’s all-time Euro scoring charts.
Cliftonville: Brown, McGovern, R Scannell, Caldwell, Smyth, Cosgrove, McMullan, Donnelly, Catney, Garrett, Gormley. Subs: Devlin, Seydak, Templeton, Lynch, C Scannell, O'Carroll, Boyce.
Kalmar: Berisha, Thorbjornsson, Ohman, Djordjevic, Israelsson, Arajuuri, Rydstrom, Skjelvik, Dauda, McDonald, Diouf. Subs: Wasta, Sjostedt, Fagercrantz, Bertilsson, Hallberg, Andersson, Soderqvist.
Referee: Adrien Jaccottet (Switzerland).