Bittersweet night as local sides have European dreams ended
It was an evening of mixed emotions for local teams as their Europa League dreams were shattered last night.
Derry City recorded an incredible 2-1 win against Dinamo Minsk in Belarus but it wasn't enough to progress as the hosts clung on to a 3-2 aggregate win.
It was only the Candystripes' ninth European victory in the club's history and could spark a change in fortune for Kenny Shiels' men in the Airtricity League.
Irish League sides Coleraine, Glenavon and Cliftonville also went down fighting in the first qualifying round and will reflect on their continental adventures with great pride.
They will also be comforted by the size of the cheques coming their way - a cool £220,000 for participation in the competition.
And the story isn't over for Crusaders as they will play Slovenian side Olimpija Ljubljana in the second round of the Europa League qualifiers next week.
Glenavon suffered a 5-1 second-leg defeat against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Molde in Norway but their 2-1 victory at Mourneview Park will live long in the memory of the Lurgan Blues faithful.
Coleraine were eliminated after losing 2-0 at home to Spartak Subotica following a 1-1 draw in Serbia.
Cliftonville stunned Danish side FC Nordsjaelland by storming in front through a sixth-minute Joe Gormley penalty but the hosts sealed a 2-1 victory, earning a 3-1 aggregate success.
But the story of the night was written by the Candystripes.
"I'm very disappointed but the players deserve so much credit," said Shiels. "The commitment levels were high and the passion to get through was there."
Ally Roy and Ronan Hale both scored for the visitors but Aleksandr Sachivko’s first-half goal was enough for Minsk to win the tie.
Glenavon travelled to Norway with more hope than expectation despite stunning Molde at Mourneview.
Eirik Hestad scored a hat-trick for the home side after Etzaz Hussain had opened the scoring with a first-half penalty.
An own goal by Vegard Forren got Glenavon back into the tie at 3-1, but an injury-time Babacar Sarr strike made it 6-3 on aggregate.
Cliftonville were on cloud nine when Gormley’s penalty levelled the tie on aggregate but FC Nordsjaelland fought back.
Substitute Godsway Donyoh made it 1-1 on the night in the 58th minute.
And Jamie Harney’s 83rd-minute own goal took the Danish club safely through.
Coleraine’s hopes were dashed at the Showgrounds as Mile Savkovic headed the opening goal on 33 minutes and substitute Bojan Cecaric hit the second in injury-time.
Meanwhile, Dundalk scored twice in quick succession against Levadia to march on.
The League of Ireland side, who made it to the group stage in 2016, had won the first leg 1-0 and increased their overall advantage with goals from Patrick Hoban and Michael Duffy.
Shamrock Rovers, who Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill took to the group stage in 2011, are out after a 1-1 draw with AIK.