UEFA Champions League, second qualifying round, second leg
TNS 1 Rijeka 5
(Rijeka won 7-1 on aggregate)
TNS crashed to their heaviest home defeat in Europe in 15 years as Croatian champions Rijeka ran riot at Park Hall on Tuesday night.
Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, the Saints stuck to the game plan of defending resolutely and hitting Rijeka on the break, but Florentin Matei’s opener and sub Mario Gavranovic’s first either side of half time killed TNS hopes.
Adrian Cieslewicz grabbed a consolation in between goals from Alexander Gorgon, Stefan Ristovski and Gavranovic’s second as Rijeka won 5-1 to complete a 7-1 aggregate win, the Saints heaviest aggregate defeat in Europe since their 12-2 defeat to Polish side Amica Wronki in 2002.
There was controversy on 22 minutes when Steve Saunders appeared to be kicked in the head when challenging for a high ball in the Rijeka penalty area, but Bulgarian referee Georgi Kabakov gave an indirect free kick, which Scott Quigley fired into the wall.
It was worst case scenario for TNS on 42 minutes when Matei showed some excellent footwork to link up with Santos and slot home from 10 yards out to end the tie as a contest.
It got worse for the Saints shortly after the break when Gavranovic turned Connell Rawlinson and fired under Paul Harrison from 15 yards.
Gorgon added a deserved third on the hour and within minutes Ristovski added a fourth as TNS were left chasing shadows.
The TNS faithful were given something to cheer when Cieslewicz showed composure to curl an effort past Simon Sluga on 69 minutes. but it proved scant consolation for the Welsh champions.
Ten minutes later Gavranovic completed his brace with a close range finish and the Croats almost added a sixth late on only for Matei to fire onto the bar.
Interim TNS manager Scott Ruscoe said: “With 42 minutes gone, I thought we’d executed our game plan brilliantly. The fitness levels and the shape was good and the players knew we couldn’t go up and leave big holes behind us.
“That’s why we set up as we did and not only have we defended well for those 42 minutes, we broke a few times and looked a threat. We could have snatched something.
“But if you don’t take them at the time, it comes back to haunt you and that’s what happened in the second half. If you play against a top side and don’t score an away goal, you’re always up against it.
“I didn’t like the way we looked after we conceded the late goals but when you’re in the tie for so long and the stuffing is knocked out of you, it happens. It became an uphill battle.”
TNS: Harrison, Saunders, Spender, Routledge, Brobbel, Fletcher (Cieslewicz), Rawlinson, Mullan, Pryce, Edwards (Holland), Quigley (Draper). Subs: Parry, Hudson, Darlington, Wycherley
RIJEKA: Sluga, Matei, Zhuta, Zuparic, Ristovski, Elez, Santos (Djokovic), Vesovic (Gavranovic), Gorgon (Crnic), Bradaric, Misic. Subs: Puncec, Ajayi, Males, Nevistic
See full story in the County Times