Crusaders didn't deserve Slovenia smashing, says Baxter
Oli Ljubljana 5 Crusaders 1
Crusaders' Europa League adventure is virtually over after a 5-1 defeat at Olimpija Ljubljana last night.
The second leg of this Europa League battle takes place at Seaview on Thursday but the Slovenian champions are firmly on course for a third qualifying round clash against BATE Borisov or HJK Helsinki.
Crues boss Stephen Baxter said he felt the scoreline flattered the Slovenian side a little.
"I think the disappointment is the scoreline doesn't reflect the performance because it was only in the last 15 minutes that the game got away from us a bit," he said.
"We were well in the game in the first half. Ljubljana had a lot of the ball but we wanted to shut the game down and not allow them space to play.
"The goals came at bad times for us and the turning point was the free-kick for the third goal which I don't feel was a free-kick.
"At Seaview we will play the style of football we want to play. Seaview is our home pitch and we have done particularly well there. We will bring our game to them, give them a warm welcome and look to try and get the right result."
For the Crues there was the added incentive of knowing that a victory over two legs would take their Uefa cash windfall past the €1million mark but the north Belfast side will pocket around £700,000 from their continental adventure which started with a Champions League qualifier.
Although Jordan Forsythe netted in the second half to make the score 3-1 the home side sizzled in the impressive Stozice Stadium with Kingsley Boateng and Matic Crnic both hitting braces and Haris Kadric delivering the final blow two minutes into injury time.
Colin Coates and Sean Ward, who missed the Ludogorets tie, returned to the Crues line-up in a defensive formation with Michael Carvill and David Cushley offering an outlet in attack.
With Jordan Owens out with a hamstring injury, the north Belfast side were missing a target man up front.
Ljubljana, who lost to Azerbaijan side Qarabag in their Champions League clash, made a fast start and keeper Sean O'Neill needed to be alert to foil Boateng in the fourth minute.
O'Neill had to block another shot from Daniel Avramovski.
The Crues weathered the early storm and in the 14th minute they threatened to open the scoring but keeper Aljac Ivacic did well to stop Forsythe's effort.
Carvill's shot cleared the crossbar as the visitors began to settle.
On the half hour Crusaders' resistance was broken as Nik Kapun fed Boateng with a clever cut back and the 24-year-old Ghana-born Italian fired the ball into the top corner from 18 yards.
On 52 minutes Cushley tried his luck but Ivacic intervened again.
But the Crues then fell two behind in the 56th minute. Crnic found the net with a stunning curling drive after a neat assist from Kapun. The 26-year-old from Maribor gave O'Neill no chance with the clinical finish.
Paul Heatley replaced the hard-working Cushley but in the 68th minute the Crues conceded a third goal.
Boateng celebrated his brace, tucking the ball home.
But on 73 minutes the visitors did find the Ljubljana net. Forsythe's deflected shot crept past Ivacic after Heatley provided the pass.
Crusaders' celebrations were cut short two minutes later as the home side made it 4-1. This time it was Crnic who got his second, beating O'Neill with a delicate touch.
In the second minute of added time the Crues were stung again as substitute Haris Kadric scored his side's fifth goal.
Meanwhile, Crusaders have stepped up their interest in Coleraine striker Jamie McGonigle by tabling a bid. The Bannsiders have rejected the Seaview side's advances but the Crues may come in with an increased offer.
Crusaders start their campaign two days after the Danske Bank Premiership kicks off on August 4 due to their Europa League commitments.
Baxter's men host Ards on Monday, August 6 (7.45pm).