Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders' Europa League opponents sack boss ahead of second leg

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders captain Colin Coates has admitted it would take something 'ridiculous' for the Shore Road outfit to make it through their Europa League second qualifying round tie, even though opponents Olimpija Ljubljana enter tonight's return leg in a state of turmoil.

The Slovenian side have sacked manager Ilija Stolica after just five games in charge due to "a number of misunderstandings", though with Aleksandar Linta placed in charge they remain in a strong position to progress past the Crues thanks to winning last week's opening match 5-1 on their home patch.

For Coates, that one-sided scoreline did not reflect the game against Ljubljana, whose chairman is former Portsmouth and Leicester owner Milan Mandaric, but it means the Irish League champions are up against it at Seaview this evening (8pm).

"There is a very slim chance of us going through, so first and foremost we will play to try and win the game," said the inspirational Crusaders defender.

"We will hope to get in front and maybe grab another goal and perhaps they could start to have a few doubts.

"Then maybe we could do something ridiculous and win 4-0. At kick-off though our thinking will be to try and win the game and see how it ends up.

"They are a good side and passed it really well in the first leg, but you find in these European games that teams don't travel very well. I know it's difficult for us when we go away from home.

"Hopefully it will be a tough old night weather wise and we can make it difficult for them."

On the first leg, Coates said: "Quite often you play in Europe and you come off the pitch and you know whatever the result is you can accept it, but losing 5-1 was hard to accept last week.

"Everyone worked very hard and we were super up until the hour mark. At 1-0 down we probably had the two best chances in the game but didn't take them.

"When we got it back to 3-1, I was thinking we would have a chance at home, but as soon as we scored we gave away a terrible goal through a set piece and they got a fifth with the last kick of the game.

"It wasn't a 5-1 game and personally I came away very disappointed and frustrated," added Coates, who feels Crusaders going full-time will benefit them in Europe long term.

While it's all about Europe tonight, Coates will lead the Crues into domestic battle again on Monday at home to Ards with the north Belfast outfit seeking a remarkable fourth league title in five years.

"We will probably be favourites but given how tight it was last season it is hard to separate us and Coleraine," he said.

"Linfield have signed really well in the summer, especially in attack, Glenavon have looked good in pre-season and Cliftonville will be stronger than last year, so it is going to be really competitive.

"We have lost Gavin Whyte to Oxford which would affect any team so we may have to slightly change how we play or reinvent ourselves a little bit.

"But there are players at our club who can fill the gap left by Gavin."

Belfast Telegraph

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