BALA TOWN’S years of waiting for an away win in Europe came to an end on Thursday as they secured a famous victory at the Centenary Stadium, Malta.

A first half goal from captain Chris Venables was enough for the Lakesiders to beat Valletta 1-0 away from home.

Colin Caton’s men had lost every single one of their five away trips in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds previously and had never made it past the first round.

These included defeats to Levadia Tallinn (Estonia), Vaduz (Liechtenstein), AIK (Sweden), Differdange 03 (Luxembourg) and Tre Fiori (San Marino).

Traditionally, both UEFA Europa League and Champions League qualifiers would include a home and away leg. However, the format has changed since the coronavirus outbreak, meaning teams play just the one leg for the foreseeable future.

This meant that Bala’s win in Malta sees them progress to the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League tournament, where they could go on to face some real footballing giants including AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur.

The draw for that round will take place next Monday (August 31) with the round two match to take place on September 17.

Bala faced up to their task against Valletta exceptionally well. Their opponents on Thursday night were a semi-pro side, but they didn’t ever look out of place against them.

The Lakesiders may have been the underdogs in this one, but they looked comfortable throughout for the most part.

The hosts started off well, creating several chances and whipping in dangerous crosses from out wide, but Bala were equal to all of them and kept them out.

An early chance had also fell to Bala’s debutant striker Raul Correia, after fellow debutant, midfielder Will Evans had worked the space well, but the resulting effort was dragged wide.

Bala defender Anthony Stephens was called into action on 20 minutes when he blocked a Valletta shot well to deny them a good goalscoring opportunity.

The tempting crosses continued to be delivered into Bala’s box from out wide but goalkeeper Ramsey, who was arguably Man of the Match on the night, was there to collect each time the ball arrived.

The deadlock looked like it was unlikely to be broken before half time, that was until Bala produced their defining moment of magic on 39 minutes.

Steven Leslie weaved his way through the Valletta defence on the left flank before delivering a wicked ball into the box which landed at the feet of captain Venables who swept the ball into the net from close range.

the 34-year-old, who was the Cymru Premier top scorer last season, did well to sneak in behind the defence unmarked to create that goal.

A minute or so later, Valletta should have equalised. A great corner landed on the head of captain Jonathan Caruana, but he headed just wide of the post.

When half time arrived, Bala were already beating the odds by leading. But the second half would truly prove that they deserved to advance to the second round for the first time ever.

The Lakesiders nearly made it two immediately after the start - a defensive error allowing Venables in once more, but his pass did not quite make it to Evans who was waiting in the middle of the box.

Bala then had a penalty shout waved away before Valletta were awarded a penalty themselves on the hour mark after another Bala debutant, Anthony Kay, was judged to have fouled their attacker.

This would again prove to be a defining moment in the match.

Goalkeeper Ramsay had had a fine debut leading up to this point and things got even better for Bala’s number 1 when he guessed correctly and dived to his right to deny Valletta danger man Fontanella from the spot.

The drama continued again when, with just over 20 minutes to go, Valletta thought they had made it 1-1. A header was saved well from Ramsay but the rebound was poked home. However, it was judged to be offside and ruled out by the linesman much to the relief of the Bala Town players and staff.

Every passing minute gave Bala more hope from there on out, and bar a bit of a late scare in the 91st minute, which saw an effort for Valletta go inches wide of the post, the chances were few and far between as Bala hung on for what was one of the biggest victories in the club’s history.

After years of European heartbreak, Colin Caton’s men now have an away win in Europe to be proud of and progress to the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League for the first time ever.

Now, they will await that huge draw which takes place on Monday.

Bala line-up on the night: Alex Ramsay, Sean Smith, Anthony Stephens, Antony Kay, Jonny Spittle, Will Evans, Steven Leslie, Lassana Mendes, Chris Venables, Oliver Shannon, Raul Correia.

Subs used: Kieran Smith (69') and Henry Jones (79')