by Richard Early
Date: 17 July 2018
Venue: Seaview Stadium, Belfast
LUDOGORETS defeated Irish League champions Crusaders 0-2 (agg 0-9) in the second leg of the Champions League first qualifying round at Seaview Stadium – progressing to the second qualifying round.
Paulo Autuori made nine changes to the starting line-up that defeated the Crues 7-0 in the first leg at Ludogorets Arena. Stephen Baxter substituted three members of his side from the fixture on Wednesday, 11th July. Kyle Owens, Jordan Owens and Ross Clarke came into the starting 11.
The first opportunity came the way of the hosts, after five minutes. The ball was cleared as far as the edge of the area and Michael Carvill’s half-volley went astray of the right post.
Six minutes later, the visitors took the lead due to a Rodney Brown own goal. Lucas Sasha floated a ball over the top towards Jody Lukoki – the 22-year-old got there first and chipped Sean O’Neill.
Ludogorets came close to doubling their lead, one minute later. Lukoki went one-on-one with O’Neill and the goalkeeper did well to pressurise the winger into tapping off the post.
After 19 minutes, Lukoki sped down the right flank before delivering a through-ball for Jakub Świerczok. From close-range, the Polish international skied wide of the right upright – blundering an opportunity to secure a second goal.
The Bulgarians were kept out by an acrobatic O’Neill save, eight minutes later. Lukoki’s corner found Georgi Terziev and the centre-back powerfully headed towards the far post – the 30-year-old superbly tipped away.
The Crues were weakened after 32 minutes. Captain, Jordan Owens hobbled off and was replaced by David Cushley. The striker had been controlling the Hatchetmen’s game.
Seven minutes of the half remained and for the second time, Świerczok couldn’t find the target from inside the box. Lukoki dashed down the right wing and curled a low cross towards the forward – the 25-year-old’s first-time effort sailed high over the crossbar.
Howard Beverland did well to prevent a goal-scoring opportunity, after 44 minutes. João Paulo dribbled into the area from the left flank before an attempted through-ball was whisked away by the defender.
After the interval, it took four minutes for Ludogorets to be denied by some terrific Crusaders defending and goalkeeping. Marcelinho’s backheel from close-range was cleared off the line by Matthew Snoddy. Lukoki regained possession inside the area and the DR Congo international’s strike was kept out by O’Neill’s feet.
Combination play brought the Crues close twice, after 56 minutes. Clarke delivered a free-kick into the area from the left flank and Forsythe’s header was deflected wide of goal. The midfielder was the receiver again from the resulting corner and the 27-year-old leapt to head off the woodwork.
Ludogorets had a goal disallowed, four minutes later. Cicinho finished a low cross and the linesman ruled it out. However, the away side doubled their lead through Świerczok, after 65 minutes. Last week’s eight-minute, hat-trick hero coolly finished into the bottom left corner from outside the area.
After 72 minutes, the hosts had an excellent opportunity to reduce the goal deficit. Forsythe flicked the ball on for Cushley and the forward’s strike from close-range was strongly tipped wide by Jorge Broun.
As the second-half entered additional time, João Paulo came close to sealing a third. From a narrow angle inside the box, the winger’s shot was tipped away by O’Neill. That proved to be the last action of the match as Ludogorets cruised to a comfortable victory.
The Razgrad side will face MOL Vidi in the next phase. Meanwhile, the north Belfast men drop down to the Europa League second qualifying round and face the losers of Olimpija Ljubljana vs Qarabağ.
FINAL SCORE: CRUSADERS 0-2 (agg 0-9) LUDOGORETS
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Beverland, Lowry (Caddell 67’), Carvill, Forsythe, K. Owens, J. Owens (Cushley 32’), Snoddy, Brown, Clarke (Glackin 81’). Subs not used: Doherty, Holden, Ruddy, Heatley.
Ludogorets: Broun, Cicinho (Panov 61’), Terziev, Natanael (Nedyalkov 70’), Sasha, Dyakov, Moți, João Paulo, Świerczok (Bakalov 79’), Marcelinho, Lukoki. Subs not used: Renan, Wanderson, Rafael Forster, Misidjan.