Larne 2-1 AGF Aarhus
Larne produced a superb performance to stun AGF Aarhus in the first leg of their Europa Conference League tie.
Tiernan Lynch’s side bagged two goals in the opening 30 minutes — through Davy McDaid and Dean Jarvis — to set them on their way in another memorable European night at Inver Park.
A late Rohan Ferguson own goal will give the visitors, managed by former Norwich and Wimbledon striker David Nielsen, hope for the second leg but Larne were well worth their advantage.
The Danish Superliga side were heavily fancied before the game, with a number of dangermen in their ranks including Icelandic international Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson and Polish forward Dawid Kurminowski, reportedly signed for close to €1million last week.
With just three minutes on the clock, Larne rocked Aarhus with a goal that looked like it had come straight from the Inver training ground.
From a free-kick in a central position, Fuad Sule played a ball to his left with Mark Randall whipping a dangerous cross into the area which caused all sorts of confusion in the visitors’ defence.
They failed to deal with the danger as, first, captain Jeff Hughes came close to applying the finishing touch from 10 yards out before the ball broke to McDaid, who showed a finisher’s instinct to slam home from close range.
Nielsen’s men looked out of sorts as Larne took the game to the much-fancied Danes, who didn’t give goalkeeper Ferguson a save to make in the opening half.
The closest they came to levelling was on 18 minutes when the lively Oliver Lund skipped past a challenge to get to the byline on the left and his dangerous cross was cut out by the alert Hughes at the back.
The Invermen continued to look composed on the ball and well-drilled by manager Tiernan Lynch, who had clearly set them up with a plan of when to press and when to sit off the visitors.
Things got even better for them as they doubled their lead with another well-worked goal on 30 minutes.
This time the moved emanated down the right flank with Tomas Cosgrove, fresh from signing a new three-year contract with the club, and Mark Randall doing well to keep possession outside the box.
Cosgrove slipped the ball in behind the Danes’ rearguard to find John Herron and the Scottish midfielder stood up a cross into the middle of goal where Dean Jarvis had the simple task of heading home inside the six yard box.
Aarhus were visibly shellshocked at how the game was panning out and it could have got worse before the half-time break.
Randall’s surging run was brought to an abrupt halt right on the edge of the box. The former Arsenal man dusted himself down to have a go at goal, but his resulting free-kick was well charged down.
Visiting boss Nielsen was clearly less than impressed with what he was seeing and made a double substitution at the break — which was already his third switch of the game.
Yann Bisseck and Jesper Juelsgard were introduced in an attempt to wrestle back momentum in the tie.
However, it was Larne who looked just as likely to grab the next goal.
They almost did exactly that when Herron’s low effort from the edge of the box was deflected just wide of Jesper Hansen’s far post.
From the resulting corner, towering defender Cian Bolger headed inches past the upright with Hansen stranded.
Larne continued to look threatening and created another chance with 79 minutes on the clock.
Lee Lynch’s surging run on the breakaway ended with him finding substitute Conor McKendry in space on the right, but the winger dragged his shot well wide in the end.
Aarhus’ lifeline arrived with five minutes to play in the most bizarre of circumstances.
Sule’s crossfield pass was cut out in the middle of the park, with substitute Alexander Ammitzbol crossing from the right and home stopper Ferguson misjudging the flight of the ball and palming it in off the post.
Larne: Ferguson, Watson, Herron (Mitchell, 74 mins), Sule, Randall (McKendry, 63 mins), McDaid (Hale, 68 mins), Lynch, Bolger, Cosgrove , Hughes, Jarvis
Unused subs: Argyrides, Kelly, Robinson, Scott, Lusty
Aarhus: Hansen, Tingager (Bisseck, 46 mins), Jevtovic (Tengstedt, 38 mins), Olsen, Munksgaard (Juelsgard, 46 mins), Lund (Ammitzbol, 73 mins), Thorsteinsson (Gersbach, 48 mins), Kurminowski, Gronbaek, Hausner
Unused subs: Anderson, Duncan, Kristensen
Referee: Gal Leibovitz (Israel)
Match rating: 8/10
Man of the Match: Cian Bolger