Coleraine striker Matthew Shevlin admits he enjoyed every minute of his European debut during last week’s first leg clash against FK Velez Mostar.
The 22-year-old missed out on European action during his previous stints at Ballymena United and Linfield but was handed a starting berth in Sarajevo as the Bannsiders were beaten 2-1 in the first leg.
Ben Doherty had given Coleraine a dream start in the Bosnian capital but they would pay the penalty as Aaron Traynor and Lyndon Kane conceded penalties, which were both comfortably converted by Brandao de Souza to give tonight’s visitors the edge going into the clash at Mourneview Park.
With the Bosnians enjoying plenty of possession in a game played in warm conditions, it was no surprise that Shevlin described his role as ‘a graveyard shift’ as he solely led the line.
“We are looking forward to the second leg after last week’s result,” he added.
“It was tough to play out in Bosnia with the heat, the travelling and the atmosphere but I thought we acquitted ourselves quite well.
“We managed the game well in a 4-5-1 formation and despite being a lone striker, I felt I played more in midfield to link the play up and to give us an out ball.
“I always seemed to be injured when Europe rolled around for Linfield and I was an unused substitute for Ballymena United for a tie in Norway, so I was delighted to make my first appearance in Europe and it’s something that I’ll remember for a long time.
“On a personal level, I was delighted to get the nod to start the game and I felt done well in trying to retain possession and winning free-kicks.”
The Bannsiders went on a miraculous European run last year which saw Oran Kearney’s men knock out La Fiorita of San Marino and Slovenian giants NK Maribor, before being edged out by Motherwell on penalties.
Shevlin was at that time a Linfield player before arriving at The Showgrounds six months later but he has his eyes set on securing another famous scalp for his new employers.
“All of the players who were here talk about the run last year and I’d love to replicate that this time around,” he said.
“If we can get the first goal or keep it at 0-0 for as long as possible, then who knows what can happen?
“We know that if we can progress then we will face AEK Athens which is a massive incentive for us but we won’t be looking further than tonight’s game.
“We know how good a side they are and it will be a difficult game.
“The atmosphere out in Bosnia was the best I’ve ever played in and despite it being hostile, I think it helped us as it gave the players a buzz and we hope our fans can do the same.”
The Stripes have been busy in the January transfer window as striker Cathair Friel re-joined the club on a two-year deal and Shevlin knows competition for places is extremely competitive on the Ballycastle Road.
“I relish the challenge of playing for my place,” he concluded.
“I played with Cathair at Ballymena, and in my opinion, his signing raises the bar even further as we have a lot of firepower.
“All of the strikers are doing well in training and scoring plenty of goals, so we are certainly doing everything right.
“Europe is a bit different as we are only playing one uptop but I’d expect us to go with a two when the league starts.”