EUROPA LEAGUE: Darren McAuley's hope for Coleraine home comfort
Darren McCauley wrote himself into the record books at Coleraine with his goal against Spartak Subotica in Serbia last week.
The midfielder became the first Bannsiders star to score on the European stage since Rory Hamill found the net against União de Leiria in 2003.
A late penalty in Novi Sad meant Coleraine had to make do with a draw, that away goal though could prove vital on Thursday, but McCauley feels his side have to go out and win the game.
“I think it will have a bearing, especially in the first half,” he said. “But I think we have to go out and win the game.
“I don’t think going out and playing for a 0-0 would be a wise decision. Spartak are such a good outfit and I expect goals to be scored at both ends. I expect it to be an interesting game tactically.
“They keep the ball really well, but if we show as much hunger and desire as we did in the first leg, and we keep the ball intelligently when we get it, then I see no reason why we can’t progress. But it certainly won’t be easy and we will have to be at our best.”
McCauley has proved himself to be the man for the big occasion - following up his goal in the Irish Cup final with this strike in Europe. But he says he won’t be dwelling on personal accolades just yet.
“They are special moments when I look back on them, but at the minute I don’t really care, I’m just focusing on the next ball, and the next game,” he said. “My job is to perform for Coleraine, the stats are nice when you look back, but that’s not my focus at the minute. I think that’s a healthy position to be in as a player.”
The Showgrounds is a sell-out for Thursday’s second leg, and having gone the entire season unbeaten there last term McCauley feels it will stand them in good stead.
“The Showgrounds has become a real fortress for us, it’s a tough place for teams to come,” he said. “If we keep playing consistently well like we did last season then I don’t see why we can’t make it a really difficult place for teams to come to, both European and domestic.
“We have a good understanding of how we like to play. If anyone is going to come and take points from us then they will have to work hard for it.”
The Bannsiders put in a terrific second-leg display against Norwegian outfit Haugesund in the tie at The Showgrounds last year after taking a battering in the first meeting.
McCauley though said that experience was a vital learning curve for his side.
“Last year was disappointing but I think we regained a bit of respect in the return leg,” he said. “People saw we were able of putting in a good performance against Haugesund.
“Because we have that experience from last year we know what to expect in terms of the tempo, the quality and the whole situation surrounding the game.
“Last year’s experience has put us in good stead for this season. It’s a position the club hasn’t been in for a long time. But I’m not surprised because we have been making big strides over the last couple of years.”
Spartak Subotica coach Vladimir Gaćinović is expecting a tough encounter at The Showgrounds.
“We weren’t at our level last week, but I expect for Spartak to progress in to the next round,” he said.
“But I have a very big respect for Coleraine, especially after watching the Irish Cup final against Cliftonville.
“As I say, I’m expecting another very tough game on Thursday night, but I’m hoping we can come out on top.”