Connor Roberts: We know how much a win in Europe would mean for The New Saints

The New Saints are preparing themselves once again for a European rollercoaster, as they look set to take their first steps in this season’s UEFA Champions League.

Last year was a difficult one for Craig Harrison’s men. They were drawn to face Swedish champions BK Häcken, a side who eventually reached the UEFA Europa League group stages and faced off against eventual finalists Bayer Leverkusen. Goalkeeper Connor Roberts knew last year was tough, but believes this season, the team can go further.

“We’re always excited 100% when we play in Europe. After drawing Häcken last year, it was a little bit deflating because we knew they were going to be a top team. They managed to get into the Europa League group stages, but hopefully this year, with the fact we’re playing slightly lesser opposition, we can stand ourselves in good stead and it can be more of a competitive tie.”

This time around, the Saints have been drawn to face FK Dečić, the champions of Montenegro. Roberts has said they have been able to analyse the Blues in a bit of depth, and he knows it’s going to be a difficult tie.

“We’ve been watching footage of Dečić, and we know their forward is a large presence who looks like a real threat. They have a central midfielder and a right-back who we’ve highlighted as key players as well.

“I’m not entirely sure what the standard of the Montenegrin League is like, but you’re never going to play a poor opposition at this stage of a European competition. If someone has won their domestic league, you know they’re going to be a decent outfit.”

This will be Dečić’s third ever European game, and their first in Europe’s premier competition. On the other hand, this will be TNS’ 20th game in the Champions League. You may think that having that experience in Europe would help the Saints, but Roberts doesn’t believe it’s too big of an advantage.

“I wouldn’t say it is an advantage in all honesty. You look at Swift of Luxembourg, who we played last year, and I just think it comes down to the two evenings more than anything else. They know how to manage big games, because they’ve certainly played in some in Montenegro. They’ll definitely look to manage it as best as they can, as will we.”

TNS haven’t reached the second qualifying round of the Champions League since 2019 when they defeated Kosovan side Feronikeli. If they are to beat Dečić, the Saints would guarantee themselves at least a place in the latter qualifying stages for the UEFA Conference League. Roberts says that puts more pressure on them to win this first qualifying round match, but it’s a pressure the side are relishing.

“Now, in a way, I think there will be increased pressure on us to win the first round because of where you can end up. If you win this first round game, you’re guaranteed at least another three games in Europe, and that’s fantastic and the club can benefit so much from that financially. The pressure is certainly on, as it should be.”

TNS are coming into this off the back of an unbeaten season in the JD Cymru Premier and are in a great place heading into the Champions League. Yet, Roberts and many other members of the squad would take a few losses last season in order to win in the first round in Europe. They know how much a win here would mean for the team and the club.

“If you ask anybody here, we would have taken a couple of losses last year if it meant getting through in Europe. Everyone would be jumping off the same page. This game is huge for the club, we understand that, and going unbeaten puts us in a good place heading into this. Mentally, we’re in a good place.”

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