Super Airbus left to rue away goal

THE Wingmakers were knocked out of the Europa League at the first hurdle in Latvia.

But they produced a superb performance to hold high-flyers FK Ventspils to a goal-less draw and in the end were left to rue the goal they conceded to their opponents in Wrexham a week ago.

Airbus were the first side to try their luck at the Olympic Stadium, Steve Abbott winning a free-kick, which Tom Field drilled high and wide from 25-yards.

It was Field who had the next chance as Airbus won another free-kick closer to the home side's goal, unfortunately for the former Chester man, but to the delight of the Ventspils support, Maksims Uvarenko made a comfortable save.

The lively Ahmed Abdultaofik reminded Airbus that Ventspils have their own attacking threat, the wide man sending what looked to be a cross onto the roof of net with James Coates scrambling back.

Airbus responded by twice going close through a third Field free-kick, which deflected off wall for a corner, and Abbott, who found space in behind Anton Kurakins and Vitaliy Smirnovs before firing low at Uvarenko.

The Wingmakers were playing a patient game as they looked for that all important goal, while Ventspils seemed content playing a counter-attacking style.

From one of their breakaways Igors Tarasovs forced Coates into a save, the goalkeeper spilling the initial effort but recovering in time to prevent any subsequent danger.

At the other end, Airbus appealed for a penalty as Abbott tumbled under some heavy duty pushing and shoving, but all protests were waved away.

The Airbus bench was further disgruntled as a Field cross was deflected behind by Tarasovs and the linesman awarded Ventspils a goal-kick.

On the stroke of half-time Airbus looked as though they had netted a crucial goal through attacker Steve Jones.

The former Northern Ireland international, chosen to start the game in place of Ryan Wade, volleyed a loose ball into the back of the net from two-yards, but the linesman had his flag up for offside.

Instead of Field's free-kicks it was Lewis Short's long throws that were an early feature of the second-half, two missile-like deliveries causing panic in the home side's penalty area.

Such was the pressure Ventspils were under, goalkeeper Uvarenko, who had looked much more assured than first-leg stopper Vitaliy Melnichenko, was booked eight minutes into the second period for time wasting.

That pressure was reduced momentarily as Vitaliy Smirnovs headed over the angle of post and bar, although the effort wouldn't have counted had it gone in, the defender penalised for a push.

Ventspils also had the next two chances as Eduard Sukhanov and Tarasovs both fired horribly off target from outside the penalty area.

Vadim Yanchuk came closer to testing Coates with a header from a Vladislavs Kozlous centre, but again the effort was still some way wide.

Back came Airbus and after some good work from Field down the left hand side, the midfielder delivered a teasing ball into the box for Chris Budrys, who beat Uvarenko to the cross, but sent a looping effort over the top of the crossbar.

Ventspils responded to that effort by forcing Coates into a save, Kozlous played in by Sukhanov's reverse pass before firing low and hard at the visiting goalkeeper.

Airbus came even closer as Jones and Abbott both forced Uvarenko into saves, the former flicking a Rule cross straight at the stopper and the latter seeing his drive parried for a corner.

Director of football Andy Preece attempted to change things with Jordan Johnson and Ryan Wade entering the action, but Ventspils were clever towards the end of the game, breaking up play whenever they could.

And those tactics proved sufficient as the referee blew for full-time.

Below: Steve Jones battles for the ball late-on in the search for a winner.