A SPIRITED Bala Town side crashed out of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday - but gave a performance of a lifetime against a team so familiar to European competitions over the years.

Their opponents Standard Liege were deserved 2-0 winners at the 28,000 seater Stade Maurice Dufrasne but Colin Caton’s Bala side certainly gave the fully-professional Belgian Pro League side a good test on the night.

Bala had set up this encounter, undoubtedly one of the biggest in the club’s 140-year history, having beat Valletta 1-0 away from home in Malta in the First Qualifying Round.

In doing so, the Lakesiders also created a further bit of history by progressing to the Second Qualifying Round of the UEFA Europa League for the first time ever.

It was also the club’s first away win in Europe, having failed in five previous attempts in Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, San Marino, Estonia and Sweden.

Traditionally, ties in the UEFA Europa League and Champions League competitions have been two-legged. However, due to the Coronavirus outbreak they now feature just the one.

This, along with that incredible performance in Malta, will have given Bala Town a sense of hope as they travelled to Belgium last Thursday.

And it was a confident start for Colin Caton’s side when striker Raul Correia (below in white) went close very early on to give Standard something to think about.

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PICTURE: Standard de Liege/Photo News.

Selim Amallah and Mehdi Carcela were looking dangerous for the hosts early on but it was a penalty which opened the scoring. Uruguayan forward Felipe Avenatti sending Alex Ramsay the wrong way for 1-0.

But that was pretty much the only foot Ramsay had put ‘wrong’ all night. Just as in Malta, he produced a string of fine saves throughout the match against Standard and was ultimately the Man of the Match for his side.

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Avenatti opened the scoring for Standard. PICTURE: Standard de Liege/Photo News.

Just eight minutes after the home team were awarded a penalty, Bala had one of their own, with the club’s ever-reliable captain Chris Venables stepping up to take the spot kick after he had been fouled by Konstantinos Laifis. But, the 2019/20 JD Cymru Premier Golden Boot winner saw his tame effort saved well by Arnaud Bodart in the Standard goal.

It was a golden opportunity squandered for Bala and one that they would ultimately live to regret. Had it been 1-1 it could have been a different story, but I guess we'll never know.

Standard Liege made it 2-0 just after the half hour mark when Moroccan midfielder Amallah’s strike took a deflection and found its way into the net past Ramsay.

Many had said before the match, that if Bala would come away from this one having conceded three goals or less they would have done well. After all, this was a Standard Liege team who had held Arsenal to a 2-2 draw just last December.

But, Bala went on to do so much more than what was expected of them on the night.

The Lakesiders defended well throughout with the likes of Jonny Spittle, Nathan Peate and Sean Smith blocking and clearing well to keep Standard at bay and ensure no more goals went in in the second half.

Bala also looked dangerous when they broke out themselves and probably deserved a goal for their efforts on the night. Midfielder Lassana Mendes was a particular stand-out when carrying the ball forward for his side, linking up well with his team-mates with some neat passes.

A hard fought second half saw very few clear cut chances created by the home side as Bala were resilient against a side who, firstly, play at a much higher level than them and secondly; are already five matches into their 2020/21 Belgian Pro League campaign.

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Standard captain Zinho Vanheusden patrols the box. PICTURE: Standard de Liege/Photo News.

After a win in Malta, a draw at JD Cymru Premier champions Connah's Quay and a spirited performance against a European powerhouse, Bala's players will be sure to have taken quite a bit of confidence from those past three matches.

For a side completely unfancied by so many before the tie, Bala Town's heroes can hold their heads up high knowing that they've put the town - with a population of less than 2,000 - and the JD Cymru Premier on the map following a performance like that.

Can they now put their first domestic win of the season on the board when they take on Cefn Druids at Maes Tegid on Saturday?

Bala Town: Alex Ramsay, Sean Smith, Jonny Spittle, Nathan Peate, Ollie Shannon, Antony Kay (80'), Lassana Mendes, Will Evans, Steven Leslie (80'), Chris Venables (C) and Raul Correia (60’). Subs: Kieran Smith (60’), Henry Jones (80'), Anthony Stephens (80')

Standard Liege: Arnaud Bodart, Collins Fai, Zinho Vanheusden (C), Konstantinos Laifis, Nicolas Gavory, Gojko Cimirot, Mehdi Carcela, Selim Amallah, Eden Shamir, Michel Balikwisha and Felipe Avenatti. Subs: Merveille Bokadi, Jackson Mukela, Obbi Oulare.