Few can still dare believe last Thursday’s heroics which turned the Welsh Cup holders from outsiders into the toast of Europe. A night that will stay long in the minds of the Seasiders – but now the attention must turn to the second qualifying round of the Europa League as Prestatyn Town aim to progress even further and make even more history.
Local media predicts a crowd of 10,000 will converge on the Stadion Kantrida in the beautifully situated seaport of Rijeka. Prestatyn’s opponents, HNK, easily qualified after a third place finish in the national top flight, the Prva HNL (Dinamo Zagreb won the title). The club last played in Europe four years ago and in distant past, reached the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1980. Their name may spring a few memories among Wrexham fans – the Reds beat Rijeka 2-0 at the Racecourse in the first leg of a Cup Winners Cup clash back in 1978. They lost the return leg 3-0.
While the trophy cabinet finds few major honours – in recent years, they won the Croatian Cup twice – HNK are building on making a serious challenge to Dinamo’s dominance, not least after a takeover last year by Italian oil magnate Gabriele Volpi. The Seasiders by contrast, playing their first European campaign, will only be too happy to ensure that they come away from Rijeka with a result which makes next Thursday’s return leg at Belle Vue count. Star striker Lee Hunt missed last week’s victory in Liepaja and will miss tonight’s first leg in Croatia as he continues to struggle a hamstring problem. Gareth Wilson is also still absent in midfield while he recovers from a knee operation and defender Jack Lewis is held back by work commitments.
Hunt’s continued absence is still a problem for Town coach Chris Hughes, but as he told BBC Sport: ”We may get him back for the home leg but we’ll have to see how he is on that. It’s a week or so since he sustained his injury so we’ll be monitoring Lee closely to see how he gets on. But we won’t rush him.”
Regardless, the confidence is in the Prestatyn tourists and they aim to shock again, according to player-manager Neil Gibson, who scored that vital equaliser in stoppage time in Liepaja last Thursday. He told the Daily Post: ”The mood in the camp is full of excitement and jubilance, we are riding the crest of a wave. We know we face a very tough challenge, but our aim is to stay in the tie so we can give the people who have not been able to travel to Latvia or Croatia a home game with something resting on it next week….We’ve been led to believe they are Football League Championship level, which will be quite a rise in standard for us, but we can’t worry about that. At the end of the day it’s 11 versus 11 and we’ll be giving it everything we’ve got, as we did in Latvia.”