Cliftonville will bid to make history when they tackle Nordsjælland in this evening’s Europa League First Qualifying Round second leg tie at Right To Dream Park – because never before have the Reds recovered from a home deficit in UEFA competition.
All of our prior triumphs on the continental stage came on the back of favourable first leg results but, if Barry Gray’s side – who who trail 1-0 from last week’s opening encounter at Solitude – are seeking inspiration, they might just find it in FC Dinaburg’s InterToto Cup elimination in 2007.
On that occasion, Cliftonville travelled to Latvia trailing on away goals following a 1-1 draw at Windsor Park the previous week and, knowing they had to score to stand any chance of progress, duly set about their task in style, with Mark Holland’s early header proving sufficient to secure the Club’s first ever European success.
That memorable triumph aside, however, home first legs have traditionally dictated the narrative of the Reds’ story in Europe.
Back in 1979, visitors Nantes won 1-0 at Solitude before registering seven unanswered goals in their native France next time out and, though it would be 29 years before BT14 next hosted the opening leg of a continental clash, the outcome was similar when FC Kosice arrived on Champions League duty; a 5-1 success offering Cliftonville no route back into the tie when they travelled to Slovakia.
In 2008, a year after that Dinaburg delight, Mourneview Park in Lurgan played host to Copenhagen’s 4-0 victory in the UEFA Cup, with the Danes almost trebling their advantage at Parken Stadium a fortnight down the line.
Two years later, Cliftonville made first leg ‘home’ advantage count when HNK Cibalia were beaten 1-0 at Windsor ahead of a scoreless draw in Croatia the following week – and, though 2012 would prove something of an exception to the rule (with Kalmar beaten 1-0 at Solitude before winning 4-0 in Sweden) that would be the last such occasion that a winning platform was set in Belfast first time out.
Celtic were 3-0 victors as part of a 5-0 aggregate triumph on Champions League duty in 2013, with a scoreless draw against Debrecen the following summer eventually leading to the Hungarians progressing on a 2-0 scoreline.
Prior to this season, the last team that Cliftonville hosted in the first leg of a European tie were AEK Larnaca – and things certainly looked to be going the Reds’ way when they raced into a two-goal lead, only for the Cypriots to roar back with three unanswered strikes before completing the job in the return game the following week.
If those stats don’t exactly enamour you to Cliftonville’s prospects in Farum this evening, examination of Nordsjælland’s home record might perhaps make for slightly more encouraging reading.
A decade has passed since the Superliga side tasted Euro success at their own ground, with the 2008 triumph over Queen of the South preceding defeats of TVMK (Estonia) and Shirak (Armenia).
Since then, Nordsjælland have been frustrated by Olympiacos, Sporting Lisbon (twice), Chelsea, Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St Petersburg and Elfsborg – luminaries whose endeavours the Reds will have to channel if they are to make history tonight.
Nordsjælland v Cliftonville will kick-off at 6.30pm Belfast-time (7.30pm in Farum).
Supporters are advised to purchase tickets on arrival at Right To Dream Park.
Adults: 140 DKK
Under 18s: 70 DKK