CONNAH’S QUAY NOMADS played out a 2-2 draw with Alashkert FC, the champions of Armenia, on Wednesday evening in the Champions’ League first qualifying round.
A 19th minute Craig Curran goal sent Nomads ahead, with David Khurtsdize’s brace giving the Armenian’s the lead until an 79th minute George Horan goal.
The game was Nomads’ reward for their stunning title win in May, where a final day decider saw Nomads clinch the JD Cymru Premier championship and Champions’ League qualification with a 2-0 win at Penybont.
Since then, Andy Morrison started for preparations in Europe with the signings of Jamie Mullan and Jordan Davies along with a pre-season programme building up to their clash with Alashkert.
The fixture also fell on a significant date for Nomads, with July 7th marking the club’s 75th anniversary since its inception as well as five years since their Europa League upset over Stabæk in Norway.
Andy Morrison started a side including Jamie Mullan, with stalwart forward Michael Wilde leading the line and Declan Poole on the left wing.
His counterpart Aleksandr Aghekyan started an experienced side including Tiago Cameta, captain Artak Grigoryan as well as James.
The game began in energetic fashion, as both sides looked to take control in the early stages at Park Avenue.
As the two champions locked horns, they battled for possession whilst the keepers Ollie Byrne and Ognjen Cancarevic remained untested.
But this deadlock was broken in the 19th minute by Craig Curran, who sealed the honour of scoring the club’s first ever goal in the Champions League in the 19th minute.
He finished with a close range header into a gaping goal after keeper Cancarevic had come out to challenge Wilde for the ball from a Mullan cross, and making no mistake when Wilde flicked the ball onto him.
However, this lead lasted only two minutes as David Khurtsidze hit back with an equaliser almost instantly to make it 1-1 with just over 20 minutes played.
Having restored the lead, Alashkert pushed for a second goal, threatening through James and the strong and physical José Embaló.
Nomads kept their defensive organisation to hold off the visitors for much of the remainder of the half, only to find themselves 2-1 down at half time.
This was thanks to a 45th minute Khurtsidze brace, slotting in a Grigoryan cross to give his side the advantage at the break.
Andy Morrison made changes during the interval, replacing Danny Harrison and Jay Owen with Aeron Edwards and Kris Owens as Nomads looked to stay on equal footings with the strong and fast Alashkert line up.
The second half started but was paused after just three minutes, when Danny Holmes suffered a knee injury which forced a lengthy pause for him to be stretchered off for further assessments in hospital.
His replacement Tom Moore joined the Nomads defence and played an important role in stopping their regular runs at the Nomads’ final third, seen when he made a vital tackle to stop Embaló inside the Quay area in the 61st. Alashkert continued to target the Nomads end, but couldn’t find a way through with Andy Morrison’s side battling for every ball, which saw Jamie Mullan booked for a tackle to stop a run into the area.
Then in the 79th, Nomads brought themselves level when George Horan got on the end of a loose ball following a corner to tap in at close range and make it 2-2.
The equaliser made for a frantic finish to the game as Alashkert pushed to restore their lead before making the journey back home for the second leg.
In the 82nd James sent a low cross glancing across the Nomads’ goal, with Edigaryan seeing a shot go wide in the 85th.
At the end of normal time the score was still 2-2, with tempers beginning to flare between both sides as they entered 13 minutes of additional time largely due to Holmes’ injury in the early stages of the half.
In the 92nd Wilde narrowly missed out on heading a Kris Owens shot goalwards, before Nomads’ final substitution saw Aron Williams replace Jamie Mullan.
The best chance of injury time went to Alashkert, who had a powerful free kick from Edigaryan sail just past the left post in the 96th minute.
After over 100 minutes of football, the game ended 2-2, securing a landmark result for Nomads, who travel to the Armenian capital Yerevan with all to play for next week.
Match report by Will Catterall