Experienced European campaigner Nicky Ward will urge his Airbus team-mates to express themselves during tomorrow’s clash with Ventspils, writes Tom Norris of the Leader.
The 35-year-old has made 19 appearances, 15 of which have come from the start, in the Champions League and Europa League for The New Saints and Bangor City.
Ward was part of the Bangor City team that defeated Honka Espoo in the Europa League second qualifying round in 2010, the Citizens winning 3-2 on aggregate.
That leaves the cultured midfielder in a strong position to talk about the pitfalls of tackling the likes of Latvia’s Ventspils.
“The gap is not that big,” he said, before he referenced Cefn Druids impressive two-legged performance against MyPa-47 last season, explaining: “I think it was generally more the fact that it was the unknown and they (Druids) have gone out, played their own game and got a great result at home.
“I think sometimes there is naivety where teams try and bank up against European opposition and you get picked open.
“You’ve got to play your game because it is something that might not happen again, so what is the point in going out and not expressing yourself. if you get beat, you get beat.”
Having beaten the likes of Finnish outfit Honko and faced Manchester City while at TNS, Ward is confident that Airbus have the squad capable of pushing Ventspils all the way, even if the Latvians are 11 games into their league season.
Ward pointed to the fact that Ventspils have twice visited Wales and have twice been beaten, losing to Llanelli and The New Saints.
“When it (the draw) came through, no disrespect to them, but they have been beaten twice by Welsh Premier League teams over here, and it is a great opportunity,” he said.
“If we can get our tactics right at home, not concede, I think we have a good chance of going through. If we can be defensively sound then we have the quality going forward that can rip any team open.
“We just need to use our heads, ease ourselves into the game and then our quality will tell. I think over the two legs, don’t be surprised if we go through.”
Ward knows what it feels like to both play and win in Europe, but the left-footed playmaker is just as excited for what may prove to be his 20th appearance as he was for his first.
“It’s massive, absolutely massive,” said Ward. “There are people who play in the Premier League and Championship and go their whole careers without playing in Europe.
“To have the opportunity to play in Europe is fantastic and breeds continuity, because once you’ve experienced it you want to do it again.
“It means a lot. I didn’t think I would get the chance to go back into Europe again so when Airbus brought me in I was made up.
“I’ve got the chance to experience Europe again so I am made up.”
The lure of Europe was so strong that Ward had little hesitation in agreeing to sign for Airbus, even though he had verbally agreed to join Cymru Alliance side Conwy Borough.
“I’ve had a few years in the league now and I’ve been fortunate to spend most of it with TNS and in Europe every year,” said Ward.
“It is one of the factors (of why I signed) because everyone wants to play in Europe and I feel I’ve still got something to offer.
“It is a challenge for me and while I am still fit enough I believe I can go out on the pitch and perform to a high level.”
Crucially, win or lose, Ward knows that Airbus will benefit from the experience of mixing with Europe’s best.
“There is quite a bit of revenue for the club and there is the chance for the players who play week in, week out in the Welsh Premier League to test themselves against top quality European opposition,” added Ward.
“I go back to the Bangor experience when we went through a round and then went on to have a 19 game unbeaten domestic run."
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