Wingmakers draw on their European debut

Airbus v Ventspils

AIRBUS made an encouraging start to European life with a 1-1 home draw against Latvians FK Venstpils.

Whatever happened on the night in this home leg, everyone involved with the Wingmakers would take enormous pride in the club having made its debut in European competition.

It was a cagey opening but the Wingmakers were not overawed by the occasion, defending well when under early pressure from Vadim Yanchuk. For Airbus, Glenn Rule volleyed over on 6 minutes. On 14 minutes Ryan Wade went even closer with a curled shot from outside of the area. At the other end Tornike Tarkhnishvili produced a similar effort for Ventspils.

On 17 minutes Wayne Riley forced the goalkeeper to turn a shot round his near post as the Wingmakers grew in confidence. As the game settled down approaching half an hour Airbus were more than holding their own. This was particularly impressive since it was their first competitive game of the season against a professional side with much more European experience, mid-way through their domestic campaign.

Tarkhnishvili found the side-netting with an attempt from a narrow angle on half an hour although opportunities for both sides were at a premium. From nowhere on 35 minutes Edward Sukhanon unleashed a powerful long-range shot which struck the bar as Ventspils came closest to breaking the deadlock. Minutes later Wayne Riley blazed over from similar distance for Airbus.

Just before half-time an injury forced Ventspils into their first change with Daniils Turkovs replacing Tarkhnishvili, while Wayne Riley curled a free-kick over for Airbus. Two minutes after the interval the Latvian side took the lead when Yanchuk deceived Airbus goalkeeper James Coates - to pull the ball back for Ahmed Abdultaofik to drive home low in the area. The 1-0 lead also gave Ventspils an away goal. There was almost an instant response from the Wingmakers when Riley had a header deflected wide.

Chris Budrys was wrongly booked by the referee on 50 minutes for a dive in the area when he was clearly fouled by Anton Kurakin. Despite going a goal down the Wingmakers were rallying strongly. On 55 minutes experienced Northern Ireland international striker Steve Jones made his debut for Airbus when replacing Ryan Wade.

As Airbus began to tire, Ventspils enjoyed more of the ball but the Wingmakers were still lively going forward with Jones having provided fresh impetus in attack. On 68 minutes Ventspils and Airbus made further changes with Oleg Zhatkin, and Nick Ward replacing Tom Field.

The last change made by the Wingmakers saw Sam Hart introduced in place of Wayne Riley.  The attendance was also announced as being over 1,400 – the highest ever for a Wingmakers competitive fixture, another record broken.

Sam Hart was given a yellow card for dissent on 78 minutes as the Wingmakers became a little frustrated with a number of decisions going against them. There was another penalty appeal turned down shortly after when goalkeeper Vitaliy Melnichenko seemed to bring Abbott down in the area.

However, with 10 minutes to go the Wingmakers equalised when Nick Ward floated a free-kick to the far post and it was met by a powerful Chris Budrys header. It brought the game back to 1-1 and gave Budrys the distinction of scoring the Wingmakers first-ever European goal. Shortly after there were bookings handed out to Ian Kearney and Vitaliy Smirnov, for fouls in quick succession.

Suddenly the Wingmakers had the momentum and were piling the pressure on their opponents from a succession of corners and free-kicks. As the game reached the latter stages Airbus looked more likely to score again than Ventspils but time was running out. Ventspils introduced Visvaldis Ignatans in place of Abdutltaofik just before the whistle – leaving it all to play for in the second-leg, away in Latvia next week.

Though the Wingmakers will fly out behind on ‘away goals’ their performance had been outstanding, did the club extremely proud on a special night – and given them real encouragement for the challenge ahead.

By Rory Sheehan

Below: The squad pose for a picture just before kick-off.