Crues licking wounds after Ludogorets turn on power
Ludogorets 7 Crusaders 0
Crusaders assistant boss Jeff Spiers admitted that Ludogorets were the toughest opponents the north-Belfast side have faced in Europe.
The Bulgarian champions had too much class and quality for the Crues in the Champions league qualifier and ran out 7-0 winners in Razgrad.
Substitute Jacub Swierczok scored a seven minute hat-trick and further strikes from Marcelinho (2), a Rodney Brown own goal and Keseru completed the comfortable win.
Ludogorets, who reached the last 32 of last season's Europa League, will complete the job in the second leg next Tuesday at Seaview.
"By a mile, they were the best team we have faced in Europe," admitted Spiers. "They were so much more superior than us.
"They were a lot fitter and quicker, just a quality. You don't win seven league sin a row like they have without possessing that quality. We are years behind these boys at the minute. A few years ago they were drawing with Liverpool and beating Arsenal at the Emirates. The tie is over as a contest but you are always playing for pride and we'd like to score a goal for the fans."
Ludogorets captain Marcelinho broke the deadlock after the Crues bravely held out for 25 minutes, the Brazilian-born Bulgarian midfielder shooting on the turn and beating O'Neill.
The second came four minutes before the interval, with Brown putting the ball into his own net to make it 2-0.
In the second half, Ludogorets' third was a delightful header from Romanian forward Claudiu Keseru in the 53rd minute, the striker slipping his marker to race onto an inch-perfect clipped ball into the box to glance it past the helpless O'Neill.
Baxter threw on Kyle Owens for Declan Caddell in an attempt to stem the flow, but it did little to stop the waves of attacks.
First came Marcelinho's second in the 65th minute, the skipper trying his luck from distance and finding the back of the net in style.
With the game, and perhaps the tie, already in the bag, enter Polish striker Swierczok from the bench, who wrapped up his seven-minute hat-trick with some precise and clinical finishing.
For his first, and Ludogorets' fifth, he showed great poise in the box to control and fire home before benefitting from a poorly placed back-header from Howard Beverland to slot the ball into the net for his second.
For his treble-clincher, Swierczok slid in behind and showed skill to round O'Neill and tap into the empty net.
Seven up for a classy and superior Ludogorets outfit, who are now firmly in control of a tie that you would be sure is already over.
Ludogorets: Renan, Cicinho, Moti, Forster, Natanael, Dyakov, Marcelinho, Campanharo (Sasha, 64 mins), Wanderson (Lukoki, 77 mins), Keseru (Swierczok, 68 mins), Misidjan. Unused subs: Broun, Terziev, Panov, Paulo.
Crusaders: O'Neill, Forsyth, Burns, Beverland, Brown, Snoddy, Caddell (K Owens, 59 mins), Lowry, Heatley (Glackin, 76 mins), Carvill (Clarke, 76 mins), J Owens. Subs: Dougherty, Cushley, Holden, Ruddy.
Man of the Match: Marcelinho
Referee: Dumitri Muntean (Moldova)
Match Rating: 7/10