Daniel Hughes accepts Cliftonville are going to have to really sweat for their Europa League cause tonight. The Reds face formidable opponents in the shape of AEK Larnaca but they must also tackle the high temperatures in Cyprus.
Larnaca boast a 3-2 lead after the first-leg, a clash in which they stormed back from 2-0 down with 30 minutes remaining to take control of the tie.
Temperatures could hit 33 degrees at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium and the heat will really be on Gerard Lyttle’s men when the second qualifying round second-leg tie gets under way at 6pm.
Former Warrenpoint Town frontman Hughes knows his side are going to have to produce the game of their lives to keep their European dream alive.
“We did very well at Solitude for about 60 minutes but their superior fitness kicked in after that and they are a quality side,” admitted Hughes.
“They hold onto possession very well and once they got their first goal that took the pressure off them and they went on to win.
“You can’t switch off against teams of that ability because they can cut you open very quickly.
“Of course we have to win the game but it’s going to be a very difficult task. We’ve got to score goals and at least we know we can do that. We have got past their defence before.
“It was tough going at times at Solitude but it’s going to be even tougher in Cyprus with the heat. We will give it everything we have but it’s a huge ask.”
Jason McGuinness and Jay Donnelly fired Cliftonville into a 2-0 lead before goals from Ivan Trickovski, Elias Charalambous and Joan Thomas burst the Reds’ bubble.
But after already securing a victory on the continent, the north Belfast side aren’t licking deep wounds. Hughes added: “The European adventure has been fantastic for the squad and everyone was buzzing after the win over Differdange 03. If we get past this team we would face Spartak Moscow in the third qualifying round so that’s another huge incentive.
“If you can enjoy a good European campaign it can lift confidence and morale going into a tough league campaign.
“You are up against full-time professionals and opposing teams are often much sharper but you can learn a lot.
“It’s great preparation for the new season and the goal is to hit the ground running. Our objective is to win the league and keep up with the likes of Crusaders and Linfield. There’s a real hunger to give it a go next season and hopefully win the title again.”
Solitude boss Lyttle added: “For 60 minutes last week we were superb. But we switched off and when you do that against a quality team you see what happens. We know more about them now, having reviewed the video of last week’s game.
“It is important that we are disciplined because they are a top team, playing in a decent league at a decent standard. It gave us the chance to see where we went wrong and where maybe we can go at them.”
• Midfielder Matthew Ferguson is on the lookout for a new club after leaving Ballymena United.
Sky Blues boss David Jeffrey said: “Everyone knows the situation that Matthew was in, he suffered a horrendous knee injury back in February and has worked extremely hard to get back to playing again.
“He still has a bit to go to get match fit but every plaudit must go to him for his determination to put the injury behind him. Matthew’s desire is to be playing football every week and unfortunately, with the ruling on squad sizes and age restrictions, it is difficult for us to guarantee that.
“It was mutually agreed that to part ways now would be what was best for his career, and the club agreed, at Matthew’s request, to the cancellation of his contract.
“We want to thank Matthew, and myself, Bryan McLoughlin, Paul McAreavey and the wider club give him our sincerest wishes for his future career.”