Hit for Seven: Crusaders suffer heavy first leg loss in Bulgaria
LUDOGORETS 7 CRUSADERS 0
Substitute Jacub Swierczok scored a seven minute hat-trick as Bulgarian champions Ludogorets dominated Crusaders in Razgrad during Wednesday night’s Champions League Qualifying Round first leg game.
The North Belfast side produced a defensively resolute first half performance but could not keep up with their opponents after the break.
Ludogorets reached the last 32 of last season’s Europa League.
It was always going to a be difficult task for the Crues against a side who have won seven consecutive domestic titles.
Ludogorets dominated possession throughout but did not force Sean O’Neill into a save until the 24th minute when he dived low to deny Marcelinho.
However it was the Bulgarian international who opened the scoring just minutes later with a smart turn and finish.
Rodney Brown’s scuffed attempted clearance doubled Ludogorets’ lead before half-time.
Crusaders, who were without Ulster Footballer of the Year Gavin Whyte, struggled to make an impact in the opposition half.
The visitors did come to close to grabbing an away goal when Kyle Owens and Howard Beverland had headers cleared off the line.
However Ludogorets remained in control of proceedings throughout and Keseru nodded in a third shortly after the interval before Marcelinho’s low drive found the bottom corner.
Swierczok made use of his fresh legs against a tiring Crues defence by notching an emphatic hat-trick between the 73rd and 80th minute.
The sides will meet in the return leg on Tuesday at Seaview.