The New Saints’ European odyssey looks dead and buried after they themselves were buried under an avalanche of goals in Bulgaria.
The Welsh champions ran into red hot Ludogorets Razgard in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League qualifying round three clash against the Bulgarian champions – and lost 5-0.
Already this summer their European road trip had taken them to Kosovo and Copenhagen, but in the searing heat of Bulgaria they were outclassed by a side that started with nine internationals from five different nations.
The two teams meet again at Wrexham’s Racecourse ground next Thursday, but there is no coming back from a scoreline like that against such a talented team.
It has been good while it lasted and nobody will be betting against Scott Ruscoe’s team getting back into Europe again next year.
The Welsh Premier League kings conceded three goals in the first half as temperatures soared to more than 30 degrees. The home side took only 10 minutes to grab the lead and they never looked back.
Ruscoe had been concerned about his side’s form in front of goal in their previous European outings and their failure to take chances came back to haunt them once again when Dean Ebbe missed the target after an error in the home defence gifted him a wonderful opportunity.
That came eight minutes before the break by which time the Welsh champions were only two goals behind.
Had his shot gone in then it would have given his side a glimmer of hope.
Ludogorets, who bagged their eighth Bulgarian title last season, got off to a flying start when a shot from Congolese international Jordan Ikoko hit the post after 10 minutes and then went into the net off the back of the unfortunate Ryan Harrington.
The visitors won a free-kick midway through the first half when Ryan Brobbell was bundled off the ball and his free kick went straight through the defensive wall, but straight into the hands of Bulgarian international goalkeeper Plamen Iliev in the Ludogorets goal.
Ludogorets doubled their lead seven minutes later when Keston Davies showed too much of the ball and was dispossessed.
Mavis Tchibota, the 23-year-old Congolese international winger, raced between the TNS central defenders before rounding Paul Harrison and finding the bottom corner.
Things went from bad to worse for the Welsh side when John Routledge picked up his third European booking, which means he will miss the return leg next week, and then another Congolese international, Jody Lukoki, banged in the third goal after Harrington was disposed in his penalty area.
That made it 3-0 at the break and the Bulgarians added a fourth in the 66th minute from the Romanian cap Claudiu Keșerü after an assist from the impressive Tchibota.
Skipper Cosmin Moţi then added a fifth.
Goals: Harrington (OG, 10), Tchibota (28), Lukoki (43), Keșerü (69), Moti (76)
Ludogorets (4-3-3): Iliev; Nedyalkov, Rafael Forster, Moţi (captain), Ikoko; Góralski, Biton (Świerczok 77), Anicet Abel; Tchibota (Wanderson 69), Keșerü, Lukoki
TNS (4-2-3-1): Harrison (captain); Marriott, Davies (Hudson 46), Harrington, Spender (Lewis 69); A. Edwards, Routledge; Redmond, Brobbell, Mullan; Ebbe (Draper 61)
Referee: Marius Avram (Romania)