Football: Sopko stops the show

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(First Edition)

Airdrieonians. . . .0

Sparta Prague. . . .1

AIRDRIEONIANS were handed a painful first European lesson by Sparta Prague in the Cup-Winners' Cup last night after dominating the match but failing to score the goals they deserved.

Now they face a difficult first round, second leg in Czechoslovakia after being caught with a typical European sucker punch with two minutes remaining when the full-back Jan Sopko headed an inswinging corner past John Martin. On the balance of play and the number of chances created, though, Airdrie should have won their first European tie with something to spare.

Predictably, the home side started in whirlwind fashion with their best move stemming from the experienced Kenny Black, operating on the left side of midfield. The tall figure of striker Andy Smith was a readily available target for Black's crosses and set-pieces, a tactic which almost provided a goal on several occasions.

However, Sparta's speedy breaks from defence always looked dangerous. Mistr on one occasion shot just over the bar, and Bilek fired carelessly over the bar when faced with an open goal.

Airdrie's forwards continued to have an unsettling effect on the visitors' defence and, from a Jimmy Boyle throw, Smith's header across goal eluded the unmarked Owen Coyle at the far post. Minutes later Coyle came close when he sidestepped two defenders and crossed for Smith whose header was well saved by Kouba. The goalkeeper's legs then kept out a Lawrence header, and Smith and Coyle both missed from close-range during a goalmouth scramble - all chances that Airdrie will doubtless rue long before the end of the second leg.

Airdrieonians: Martin; Kidd, Stewart, Sandison, Honor, Black, Boyle, Balfour, Smith, Lawrence, Coyle.

Sparta Prague: Kouba; Sopko, Mistr, Vrabec, Hornak, Bilek, Nemec, Chovanec, Dvisnik (Trval, 73), Vonasek, Frydek (Nedved, 89).

Referee: R Pedersen (Norway).