Comment: How Coleraine gave their supporters reason for optimism despite Europa League exit
Coleraine 0-2 Spartak Subotica (1-3 agg)
Coleraine went out of the Europa League but gave their supporters plenty to smile about with an inspired second half performance at the Showgrounds.
Crusaders are now the Irish League's sole-surviving European representative in the Europa League second qualifying round after dropping out of the Champions League.
Coleraine bossed large parts of their second leg against Serbian side Spartak Subotica but were denied by a man of the match goalkeeping performance from Nikola Peric.
Despite looking shakey under a crossed ball early on, his shot-stopping abilities held out Coleraine and allowed his side to set up the lucrative tie against Sparta Prague.
Coleraine can take heart from their Europa League exit, not least because of James McLaughlin's first appearance after a...Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Thursday, July 19, 2018
The Bannsiders gave their fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the season ahead.
First of all, the goals against came firstly from a lapse in concentration that allowed Nemanja Calasan to set up Ognjen Duricin for the opener, both players with free headers from a free-kick. The second was a simple late break as the dominant hosts pressed.
At the other end, Coleraine carved out their chances, particularly during a totally dominant and thrilling second half display.
Ian Parkhill saw headers from Aaron Traynor crosses saved either side of the break but it was the introduction of Jamie McGonigle that helped to spark Coleraine's attacking threat.
The striker came off the bench on the hour-mark and soon forced keeper Nikola Peric into a top save and then flicked on Ciaron Harkin's corner for Stephen McDonnell just to fail to connect and convert.
Goalkeeper Peric went on put in a man of the match display in the closing half hour, saving spectacularly from a close range McGonigle effort and then from a Stephen Lowry one-on-one.
Alongside McGonigle, Coleraine have James McLaughlin back in action. Remember him? After missing the rollercoaster ride that was last season with a cruciate injury, he came off the bench for his first appearance for a year. Like a new signing, he will soon remind us all of his quality.
The opposition, remember, are from the same division as Red Star Belgrade. They're certainly no mugs and for the majority of this game, they were out-played by the Irish Cup winners.
That was also in no small part down to Stephen Lowry, returning to the north coast club from Linfield this summer and put his dominant stamp on the midfield battle.
In defence, Stephen O'Donnell and Gareth McConaghie, as we already know, are a stout partnership.
Coleraine, on this showing, are ready to prove they're no one season wonders in the Irish League title race.
Roll on the Danske Bank Premership.
Belfast Telegraph Digital