Coleraine 1 Velez Mostar 2 (Mostar win 4-2 on aggregate)
Coleraine’s hopes of another European run are over.
In last season’s Europa League, the Bannsiders defeated La Fiorita and stunned Slovenian outfit Maribor on penalties before going out to Motherwell in a shoot-out.
For 50-odd minutes last night, it looked like they were going to create more magical memories in continental competition.
Oran Kearney’s men were 1-0 up against Bosnian side Velez Mostar through Matthew Shevlin, drawing 2-2 on aggregate and creating enough openings to suggest they could win their Europa Conference League first qualifying round tie.
Then came a goal from Brandao De Souza on 54 minutes with the boy from Brazil overjoyed to see his strike deflect in at Mourneview Park and from there the game was up.
Confidence oozed out of the visiting team and they carved out opportunities at will with the classy Nemanja Andusic taking one to earn a 2-1 victory on the night and 4-2 success overall.
So, a short lived European adventure for Coleraine this year though as underdogs they showed some bite in both legs, the second of which they were missing important players in.
Already without Lyndon Kane due to suspension following his red card in Bosnia, the Bannsiders were dealt another blow when the man who scored in the away leg, Ben Doherty, was also ruled out.
The influential midfielder revealed on his Twitter account that he was “gutted to be missing out due to a positive Covid test” adding that he hoped his team-mates could reach the next round.
Defensive star Aaron Canning was another absentee from last week with defender Stephen O’Donnell and forwards James McLaughlin and Curtis Allen coming into the starting XI. With Shevlin and Jamie Glackin also in the side, it was an attacking line-up
With work ongoing on Coleraine’s new pitch at the Showgrounds, the game was at Glenavon’s Mourneview home with around 600 fans making the 180-mile round trip to Lurgan to support their team with plenty in the stands sporting the bright pink limited edition European shirts that Kearney’s players were wearing on the pitch.
There was a lively start with McLaughlin and Glackin making their presence felt, though the early chances fell to the visitors, the best of which saw Gareth Deane save superbly to keep out Haris Ovcina.
Just after the half-hour, Shevlin connected with Glackin’s tantalising left wing cross at the near post only for alert Velez goalkeeper Slavisa Bogdanovic to deny him.
There was no stopping the same Coleraine duo on 32 minutes when Stephen Lowry cleverly recycled the resulting cleared corner to Glackin and, when he provided another brilliant delivery, Shevin got ahead of his marker to powerfully glance the ball into the net.
It was a goal greeted by a mighty roar from the spectators, as was another fine save from Deane seconds before the break when Dzenan Zajmovic seemed sure to score.
Shevlin ought to have doubled his side’s lead moments into the second period but dragged his shot wide after excellent work from Allen. Had that gone in, Coleraine could have been celebrating in Europe again.
Instead, De Souza netted the crucial goal with his curling effort deflecting into the net. It was a crushing blow for Kearney’s side and they failed to recover from it.
Velez had several opportunities to close out the tie before finally doing so on 71 minutes thanks to a wonderful strike from substitute Andusic after an exceptional move.
Coleraine kept plugging away and Lowry forced Bogdanovic into an impressive stop in the latter stages but they knew any hope of facing AEK Athens in the next round was gone.
Coleraine’s aim when the new domestic season begins next month will be to earn another shot in Europe.
COLERAINE: Deane, Brown, Lowry, McLaughlin (Bradley, 69 mins), Carson, Wilson, O’Donnell, Glackin, Traynor, Allen, Shevlin. Unused subs: Mullan, Jarvis, McConaghie, Tweed, Kelly, Friel.
VELEZ: Bogdanovic, Zeljkovic, Cosic, Ovcina (Andusic, 46 mins), Isic, De Souza (Radovic, 79 mins), Ferreyra, Hasanovic (Zvonic, 46 mins), Vehabovic (Prses, 74 mins), Zajmovic (Georgijevic, 74 mins), Radovac. Unused subs: Kacavenda, Zubanovic, Osmic, Alagic.
Referee: Balazs Berke (Hungary)
Man of the match: Samir Zeljkovic (Velez)
Match rating: 7/10