First Team
UEFA Europa Conference League Thu 20 July Cardiff City Stadium
Haverfordwest County
  • Jenkins (89')
1 (3)
KF Shkëndija
0 (2)
1-0 (3-2 pens)

Haverfordwest County basked in the greatest night in their history as the Bluebirds defeated KF Shkëndija on penalties at the Cardiff City Stadium to advance to the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League.

After Lee Jenkins’ goal with one minute left of normal time had dramatically leveled the aggregate scoreline at 1-1, the game headed to extra time before a tense penalty shoot-out ended with the heroic Zac Jones once again coming up trumps, as he made two saves – including the match winner – to help book County’s place in the next round.

Manager Tony Pennock made just one change to the team that had performed so admirably out in Skopje a week prior, with Ricky Watts coming in for Jack Wilson, as stand-in captain Jazz Richards switched to the flank.

Playing in their new, limited edition European kit for the first time, the Town started positively in their new and unfamiliar surroundings, enjoying some good early possession inside the visitors’ half.

© RawPhotography

Clear-cut opportunities were few and far between for both sides in the first half, with Ben Fawcett dragging a shot wide of the left post from the right side of the area before Tyrese Owen got his foot to a ball into the area but diverted it over the crossbar.

The best chance of the opening period fell to the visitors when, three minutes before the interval, a through ball from Klisman Cake played Eraldo Çinari in, but the attacker’s left-footed effort went wide of the left post from close range.

The Bluebirds were focused on not conceding a goal early in the second half as they had done in the first leg in Skopje last week, but they almost did so once more as defender Mevlan Adili’s glancing header from a free-kick went just wide of the right post.

While the emphasis for Pennock’s men was to remain in the contest for as long as possible, they were still showing a willingness to get forward when the opportunity presented itself, and they came close to drawing level when Watts’ header from inside the area was blocked, before the rebound fell to Martell Taylor-Crossdale who was also denied from close range.

CARDIFF, WALES – 20 JULY 2023: Haverfordwest County’s Rhys Abbruzzese during the UEFA Europa Conference League qualifier second leg fixture between Cymru premier’s Haverfordwest County & KF Shkëndija of North Macedonia at the Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. (Pic by John Smith/FAW)

As they had done in Skopje last Thursday, County grew into the contest and finished strongly as they searched for an equaliser. Pennock turned to his bench for the first time with 12 minutes of normal time remaining when he introduced Jack Wilson in place of Tyrese Owen.

Iori Humphreys then came on to replace Taylor-Crossdale with seven minutes to go, and this was followed by Watts directing a looping header from Dan Hawkins’ corner just over the bar as time ticked away.

County continued to push forward, and they thought they were going to be awarded a penalty when Rhys Abbruzzese broke free and was brought down, with the referee adjudging that the foul had occurred just outside the area. Then, from the resulting free-kick, Wilson’s well struck effort was palmed away by the diving Davor Taleski.

The drama didn’t end there, though, and in almost unbelievable fashion the Bluebirds drew themselves level when a ball into the area from Wilson was diverted into the path of Jenkins by Ennur Totre, and the defender swiveled before unleashing a shot which took a slight deflection off Ardian Limani to help it past Taleski and into the left side of the net to spark jubilant scenes inside the stadium. Those in attendance were desperate for more, and they got just that as the tie headed to extra time.

© RawPhotography

There was a heart in mouth moment in the 104th minute when a ball forward from the Shkëndija defence was misjudged, but Oscar Borg was alert and got back in time to clear and prevent substitute Metodi Maksimov from getting a clear shot on goal. The Town then had an opportunity of their own four minutes later when a cross into the area found Fawcett, but his header was straight at Taleski.

Çinari then sent a free-kick from 25 yards wide of the right post, before County were forced to pull out some heroic last-ditch defending inside their own area to keep the Red and Blacks at bay. This was to be the final action of note of an enthralling 120 minutes in the capital, as the tie headed to penalties.

Dan Hawkins was first up for the Bluebirds, with his effort rolling just wide of the left post. Endrit Krasniqi was on target with Shkëndija’s first spot-kick to give the North Macedonians the advantage. Jazz took responsibility with the next penalty, and stood tall as he sent Taleski the wrong way to make it 1-1.

The shoot-out remained all square after two each as Jones saved Çinari’s effort with his feet. County led for the first time when Wilson’s fantastic spot-kick found the top right corner, giving Taleski no chance, and the momentum was firmly in their favour when Adili’s penalty crashed into the right post.

CARDIFF, WALES – 20 JULY 2023: Haverfordwest players celebrate winning on penalty kicks after extra time of the UEFA Europa Conference League qualifier second leg fixture between Cymru premier’s Haverfordwest County & KF Shkëndija of North Macedonia at the Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. (Pic by John Smith/FAW)

Kai Whitmore then sent the ball into the same part of the net as Wilson to make it 3-1, before Kamer Qaka kept the visitors alive. Fawcett then had the opportunity to win the tie, but his effort went over the bar. However, it mattered not as substitute Florent Ramadani had his spot-kicked saved by the inspired Jones to spark scenes the like of which Haverfordwest County had never before experienced.

Haverfordwest County: Jones, Jazz (C), Watts (Davies 116′), Jenkins, Borg (H. John 106′), Abbruzzese, Whitmore, Owen (Wilson 78′), Hawkins, Fawcett, Taylor-Crossdale (Humphreys 83′)

Substitutes not used: Knott, Chesters, Shirt

KF Shkëndija: Taleski, Limani, Adili, Cake, Velija, Totre (Ramadani 105′), Qaka, Çinari, Krasniqi, Shala (Maksimov 80′), Aganspahić (Elezi 74′)

Substitutes not used: Dita, Kaba, Meliqi, Nuhija, Ramani, Rexhepi, Zahov

Attendance: 1,716

Penalty shoot-out

Dan Hawkins misses (0-0); Endrit Krasniqi scores (0-1); Jazz Richards scores (1-1); Eraldo Çinari misses (1-1); Jack Wilson scores (2-1); Mevlan Adili misses (2-1); Kai Whitmore scores (3-1); Kamer Qaka scores (3-2); Ben Fawcett misses (3-2); Florent Ramadani misses (3-2)