By Matthew Burgess
The New Saints require nothing less than a momentous comeback in the latest chapter of their summer 2019 European campaign, as they seek to overturn a first-leg deficit against FC Copenhagen tonight (6.45pm).
Copenhagen flexed their muscles at Park Hall a week ago, recording a comfortable 2-0 win.
The expectation is that the Danes will be even stronger back amidst their home surroundings, leaving Scott Ruscoe’s Saints with a considerable task ahead of them.
The New Saints are no strangers to playing Denmark. They lost 3-1 at FC Midtjylland a year ago and a similar result would bring a close to their latest Champions League qualifying effort.
And although a remarkable turnaround would be an immense achievement, both competitively and financially, for the perennial Welsh champions this away leg brings an element of freedom, thanks to the competition’s format.
Exiting the Champions League at this stage would allow The New Saints to drop into the Europa League qualifying rounds, where they would be two rounds away from reaching the holy grail of the main group stage.
Whilst the visitors will be expected to apply themselves fully as they attempt to find a way to somehow stun Copenhagen, the Saints squad needn’t be too down-hearted in the event that they are eliminated over the two legs.
Instead, they need to set their own tone that will give them a solid platform going into their potential Europa League qualifier against opponents Valur or Ludogorets Razgrad.
Even if obtaining a result to advance past Copenhagen is realistically beyond them, the game itself has value in providing Saints with more experience of competing against top continental teams.
There are also wider positives for Ruscoe to take into this game as his defensive injury worries begin to ease.
I understand that experienced duo Blaine Hudson and Chris Marriott are both back in contention this evening, easing the pressure on young centre-backs Ryan Harrington and Keston Davies.
Ruscoe now has the option of allowing the latter pair to gain valuable experience or allowing his returning players to get some competitive minutes under their belts.
Further up field, the centre-forward dilemma is one that won’t go away, with The New Saints alternating between Greg Draper and Dean Ebbe.
Draper made way in the first-leg, but Ebbe lasted 56 minutes before the Golden Boot winner was introduced.
There’s plenty for Ruscoe to consider with the security of knowing regardless of what transpires tonight, The New Saints’ European run still isn’t over.
The New Saints: (probable): Harrison; Spender, Hudson, Davies, Marriott; Routledge, Edwards; Mullan, Brobbel, Redmond; Draper.