Linfield FC 1 Spartak Trnava 3 (agg 2-5)
Linfield’s European romance ended in heartbreak at Windsor Park on Thursday night.
Warren Feeney’s boys, who were attempting to make Europa League history by becoming the first Irish League side to reach the third round, were upstaged by Slovakian side Spartak Trnava.
It was always going to be a big ask for the Blues as they trailed 2-1 from the first leg last week. But it looked so good when Stephen Lowry shot the home team into a first half lead.
However, Spartak came battling back in sensational strikes Erik Sabo, who grabbed two, and Jakub Vojtus which booked their flight to Greece next week to face PAOK.
Blues fans came out in big numbers and their were almost rewarded after only four minutes when big defender Lukas Gressak, managed to hoof the ball to safety following a dazzling solo dash from Aaron Burns.
But a silence descended on the rebuilt Belfast arena on six minutes when dangerman Emir Halilovic let fly from all of 25 yards. His effort looked to be arrowing into the top corner, but goalkeeper Ross Glendinning was relieved to see it scrape past the post.
Referee Lauent Kopriwa made few friends among the Blues faithful by awarding the visitors a free kick when Halilovic appered to slip rather than fouled by Matthew Clarke. Erik Sabo’s free kick was brilliantly blocked by Lowry.
Then seconds later at the other end, the Luxemberg official was not interested in possibly awarding the Blues a penalty kick when Guy Bates appeared to be wrestled to the ground Gressak.
Linfield upped the ante as the half progressed and they almost achieved the breakthrough on 29 minutes. Aaron Burns’ cross was delightfully headed across the face of goal by Bates and Lowry’s rasping low drive crashed back off the post.
But they had better luck five minutes later with Lowry’s strike. Davy Kee’s corner kick caused chaos in the Spartak defence. Goakeeper Adam Jakubech could only hopelessly paw the ball to Lowry and he buried the drive from eight yards.
It was the visitors who roared from the traps after the half-time cuppa. Ross Glendinning produced a wonderful save to flip a long range Gressak drive over the crossbar on 48 minutes.
But it was all-squad six minutes later. Slovakian international Sabo took off on a sensational solo run before ramming a wonderful low drive out of the reach of Glendinning.
And, it got worse for the Blues as Spartak forged in front to literally kill the tie -- but what a strike it was. From well inside his own half, Vojtus produced lightning pace in a dazzling 60 yard solo run which culminated in a slick finish. Even the home fans showed their appreciation.
Linfield became ragged and were let off the hook on two occasions with Halilovic and Martin Mikovic both hitting the post from distance.
Spartak then had Jakub Vojtus dismissed after picking up a second booking, but hit hardly mattered. Mikovic slicked through the Blues defence with six left to set up a tap for that man Sabo.
Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Reece Glendinning, Hegarty, Haughey (Ward 75), M Clarke, Lowry, Burns, Kee, Sproule (R Clarke 63), Waterworth, Bates.
Sub not used: Millar, Mulgrew, Murray, Quinn, Deane.
FC Spartak Trnava: Jakubech, Vojtus (Jirka 86, Mikovic, Casado, Bortel, Toth, Conka, Sabo, Halilovic (Baez 75), Harba (Mikinic 69),Gressak.
Subs not used: Steinhubel, Kostal, Strapak.
Referee: L Kopriwa (Luxemberg).