Cliftonville will bid to make history when they tackle Haugesund in tomorrow night’s Europa League First Qualifying Round second leg tie at Haugesund Stadion – 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 Paddy McLaughlin’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 last 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.
Twelve months ago, meanwhile, Nordsjælland did exactly what Haugesund managed last week with a 1-0 success at Solitude and, though they were panicked by Joe Gormley’s opener in the second leg, the Danes would eventually go on to win 2-1 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate.
If those stats don’t exactly enamour you to Cliftonville’s prospects tomorrow, examination of Haugesund’s home record does little to lift the mood.
The Norwegians have hosted just four European games on home soil and have won three of them, with Airbus UK (2-1), Coleraine (7-0) and Lech Poznan (3-2) all beaten in the last five years, with the one exception coming in 2014 when FK Sarajevo recorded a 3-1 victory – an endeavour the Reds will have to channel if they are to make history this week.
Haugesund v Cliftonville will kick-off at 6pm Belfast-time (7pm in Haugesund).