Prestatyn Town FC progressed to the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round in dramatic fashion on Thursday night, but their victory proved as much of a success story for the Welsh Premier League as for the team itself.
A penalty shoot-out eventually proved to be the difference between SK Liepājas Metalurgs and the Welsh club in Latvia, after a 2-1 away win had taken it to the shoot-out. Lee Jones's men showed tremendous character after Valērijs Afanasjevs had put the Latvian side 3-1 up on aggregate 17 minutes into the second leg, Neil Gibson scoring in added time after Ross Stephens' equaliser.
Although AUK Broughton FC and Bala Town FC could not match Prestatyn's accomplishment, the performance of the trio in European competition has brought praise. "It is an absolutely fantastic achievement for both Prestatyn Town and the league," Welsh Premier League secretary Gwyn Derfel told UEFA.com. "I am proud that a club from the league has shown such resilience against a team well into their domestic season, especially with it being their first ever European campaign. I am delighted for the people involved with the club, and I believe that this can be the catalyst for the club to progress."
Derfel hopes the result can help change perceptions of the domestic game in Wales. "I believe in the league," he said. "European performances and results have been unfairly used to knock the league and our clubs. If people want to judge the league on European results, take a look at what Prestatyn Town have achieved tonight."
The domestic top division was reduced from 18 clubs to 12 in 2010, and Derfel remains a strong advocate of the system. "Reducing the number of clubs in the league improved standards," he said. "I do believe it is the best format for the league at this time, and that our encouraging performances in Europe tonight are strongly connected to how our clubs have improved since it was introduced. I am personally delighted for the people who believe in, and support, our national league."
Prestatyn head to Croatia to take on HNK Rijeka next week in the second qualifying round. Derfel, and the rest of the Welsh Premier League family, will be right behind them.