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Eu Reds: The New Saints

Ahead of Cliftonville returning to competitive action in next month’s Europa League First Qualifying Round battle with FC Nordsjælland, we turn the clock back seven years to acknowledge the latest in a recent line of continental anniversaries.

For it was on this very day in 2011 that the Reds contested a Europa League tie with Welsh opponents The New Saints at Park Hall.

Less than a fortnight after securing a friendly victory at the same venue, Tommy Breslin’s side returned to Oswestry and, roared on by a vociferous visiting support, claimed an encouraging 1-1 draw thanks to Barry Johnston’s sensational dipping strike cancelling out an Alex Darlington opener.

The Saints would ultimately secure progress by virtue of a 1-0 win at Solitude the following week, but the Clubs have enjoyed a healthy rivalry in the years since with TNS visiting Belfast – and emerging with a similar outcome – for friendlies in 2013 and 2014 ahead of Cliftonville playing out a scoreless draw back at Park Hall in the summer of 2015.

Today also marks another 1-1 draw away from home in Europe – one that laid the foundations for a more satisfactory outcome.

A last-gasp Ross Lavery header ensured the Reds departed Luxembourg with something to show for their efforts at the end of a Europa League First Qualifying Round contest with Differdange on this date two years ago.

Trailing to Omar Er Rafik’s first-half strike at Stade Municipal de la Ville, Cliftonville pounced with two minutes left on the clock when substitute Lavery got on the end of a Jay Donnelly cross to plant a firm header beyond goalkeeper Julien Weber – sparking scenes of wild jubilation among the visiting support.

That strike would prove pivotal to the balance of the tie, with the Reds generating further momentum in the opening minutes of the return leg at Solitude, where Davy McDaid’s early goal put the hosts in control ahead of Donnelly sealing progress after Differdange had Tom Siebenaler sent off midway through the second-half.

Donnelly would become the first Cliftonville player in history to score in successive European games when he added to Jason McGuinness’ opener to put the Reds 2-0 up against AEK Larnaca the following week, only for the Cypriots to hit back for a victory they complemented with another win in the baking heat of the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium.