THE bad news for Inverness Caledonian Thistle is that, if they are to pluck a potential plum tie against West Ham United from a first continental sortie, they will require to go heavy on the historic in the Romanian backwater of Giurgiu this evening.
In 60 years of competing in Europe, only twice before have Scottish clubs triumphed in a tie after losing the first leg at home 1-0.
The better news for John Hughes’ men is that these successes are recent affairs. Motherwell, with a 3-0 win in a Europa League qualifier against Welsh side Llanelli in July 2009, became the first side from these borders to pull off this feat only a matter of three weeks before Tony Mowbray’s Celtic emulated them thanks to a 2-0 victory against Dinamo Moscow in a Champions League qualifier.
When it comes to the task facing the Highland club against Astra in the deciding leg of their Europa League second round qualifier, the degree of difficulty can be placed somewhere between featherweight Llanelli and middleweight Moscow.
Nevertheless, Inverness must pack a punch to accompany the artful sparring that made their visitors look ordinary in the first leg. That the Romanians, who have shipped in a job lot of players over the summer, did not convince and at the weekend were thumped 5-1 at home by league leaders Targu Mures offers a glimmer of hope to Hughes and his team. The Inverness manager is willing to see such as providing a beacon of optimism. “We acquitted ourselves very well in the first game and should’ve taken something from it,” he said. “I think they’re vulnerable having just got beat 5-1 a couple of days ago. But we have to be very cautious and can’t go gung-ho and before we know it we’ve conceded and are chasing the game after that.
“We’re going to be right in it and will have to carry a bit of luck; I expect it go right to the wire and down to the last ten minutes. No matter how we go about the tie, someone’s going to have to be a hero and come up with the goods. I’m confident we can do that.”
The prospect of winning through to face West Ham has, Hughes admitted, “added spice” to events in the tidy, newer New Broomfield-like Marin Anastasovici Stadium, an hour-and-a-half drive south of Bucharest. A venue far from intimidating and, often, far from close to its 8,500 capacity.
“We all know what the reward is: [a possible tie against] West Ham and that would be absolutely fantastic. I’d love to see the Inverness supporters strutting their stuff down in London,” said Hughes, with the Upton Park club 1-0 up on Maltese side Birkirkara whom they face in the Mediterranean island tonight. “But it’s dangerous to look too far in front of us.”
One danger for Inverness could be the potential for them wilting in the sweltering conditions they will face at 9pm local time. Midfielder Danny Williams conceded the Scottish Cup winners don’t have experience of the 30-degree temperature which is expected to await them.
“It’s a bit different from the Highlands I suppose. It’s usually minus 30,” he said. “But it’s something we are looking forward to. We are not going over there for a holiday. We want to put a performance in and get through to the next round.
“It will be tough with the heat, it’s something we are not used to, but we are looking forward to it. This is new to me, like it is for a lot of the lads. We all couldn’t wait to get back for this game. We worked so hard for it last season, finishing third and winning the cup final, so we can get into Europe. We will go there and give 100 per cent and try to get a result.”