The New Saints suffered a nightmare start to their Champions League qualifying campaign after Besart Ibraimi hit four goals as the Saints were thumped 5-0 by Macedonian side KF Shkendijai.
The Saints travelled to Macedonia for the first qualifying round, first leg tie in good spirits after a positive pre-season campaign but were no match for their Balkan counterparts, who have all but sealed their passage through to the second qualifying round of the 2018/19 Champions League.
With the tie in all probability beyond reach, The New Saints will likely drop into the Europa League qualifying stages where they would face Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar.
The New Saints, featuring new signings Ben Cabango and Danny Redmond in their starting line-up, fell behind in Skopje on 14-minutes after Izair Emini struck a loose ball past Paul Harrison.
Saints midfielder Jon Routledge latched onto Dean Ebbe’s cross to force Shkendijai keeper Kostadin Zahov into a save, but four-minutes later, Besart Ibraimi caught Harrison off-guard to double the hosts’ lead.
Ibraimi claimed his second goal of the night shortly after the restart to put the Macedonians 3-0 up. The former Schalke striker sealed his hat-trick on the 60-minute mark with a fine free-kick as KF Shkendijai stamped their authority on the tie.
The Saints could not live with the 31-year-old marksman who then curled in his fourth of the night to gave KF Shkendijai a dominant 5-0 lead going into next week’s return leg at Park Hall.