Belfast Telegraph

Brave Ballymena left with uphill task after lack of sharpness is exposed in Norway

Odds BK 3 - Ballymena United 0

By Graham Luney

Ballymena United's hopes of stunning Norwegian side Odds suffered an early blow as they conceded after only 34 seconds but a battling performance in hot conditions saw them limit the damage to a 3-0 defeat.

The 70 Sky Blues fans who made the journey also paid tribute to their former skipper Alan Jenkins, who parted company with the club in the summer, by unfurling a banner hailing 'The Ulster Scot'. The midfield general was a real hero for the Braidmen but this long-awaited return to European football for the club failed to spark a new, heroic tale.

When Stefan Mladenovic raced through and tucked the ball under goalkeeper Ross Glendinning just as battle commenced, the visitors knew their uphill task in this Europa League first qualifying round tie became even more daunting.

United's fortunes really nosedived in two disastrous minutes in the second half. In the 52nd minute, skipper Jone Samuelsen's penalty struck the bar but Martin Erik Broberg headed in the rebound.

Seconds later, David Jeffrey's side lost Kyle Owens, who sustained a serious shoulder injury after landing badly on the artificial surface.

READ MORE: Coleraine have only pride to play for after being taught lesson

Emmet Friars came on for Owens, making his debut after joining the club from Ards, and United almost grabbed one back in the 67th minute but Cathair Friel headed over after meeting Conor McCloskey's superb delivery. Odds weren't as clinical as they should have been at times but United had chances too and a quick free-kick from Kevin Braniff released substitute Johnny McMurray, who powered his effort wide.

The visitors, competing in Europe for the first time since the 2004-05 season, sweated for the cause in front of 2,961 supporters but Odds, who are 14 games into their league campaign and sit in seventh in their domestic league, produced a real sting in the tail.

After forcing a late corner, Steffen Hagen smashed in goal number three, leaving the Sky Blues with a mountain to climb in the second leg. That late goal was harsh on the visitors, who will be disappointed they didn't hit the target and Owens' injury will be a concern.

Broberg and Olivier Occean also missed chances for Odds, who were quicker in thought and movement against a side naturally missing match sharpness.

Elsewhere in Norway, Coleraine's heavy 7-0 defeat was another painful reminder of the challenges facing Irish League sides on the continent.

There's no guarantee summer football will totally reverse the tide but it could certainly limit the damage.

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