AS the players and officials of FK AS Trencin embraced and congratulated each other at the final whistle on Thursday night, there was little doubt just how proud they felt at holding a Premier League club to a goalless draw.
Hull City, who just 10 weeks earlier had given the mighty Arsenal such a fright at Wembley in the FA Cup final, may have just about shaded the first leg.
The Tigers had also wasted two gilt-edged opportunities in as many seconds thanks to Tom Huddlestone’s fluffed penalty and the failure to convert the rebound when, as Steve Bruce acknowledged afterwards, “it seemed easier to score”.
But Trencin, in only their second season in Europe, had risen to the occasion of the biggest game in the club’s history to ensure that there will be all to play for when the two sides meet again on Thursday at the KC Stadium.
No wonder, therefore, that the Slovakian League runners-up were so euphoric as the final whistle blew in the stadium that they had borrowed from MSK Zilina due to their own being too small to meet UEFA regulations.
In contrast to the joy and noise coming out of the impromptu huddle of players in red and white, Hull’s squad were much more restrained.
After rightly acknowledging the 600 or so Tigers fans who had travelled over land and sea to witness the club’s historic first foray into Europe, the players trudged, almost disconsolately, towards the tunnel.
On the touchline, manager Bruce also cut a dissatisfied figure as he mulled over a performance that had been largely pedestrian.
With Hull only a little over midway through their pre-season, perhaps this should not have been a surprise.
Trencin’s league campaign is already under way, while they also had two hugely competitive legs in the second qualifying round when seeing off Serbian side Vojvodina 4-3 on aggregate – a point that Ahmed Elmohamady believes goes a long way towards explaining why Hull looked quite sluggish on Thursday night.
“We maybe got a little bit tired in the last 10-15 minutes,” the Egyptian international told The Yorkshire Post.
“But we are still in the middle of our pre-season.
“I thought the important thing was we got a clean sheet and also had some chances. It was a good game and the lads put everything into it.”
The 61st minute incident that saw Shane Long win a penalty, Huddlestone see his resulting spot-kick saved and then fire the rebound over from just a few yards out was, undoubtedly, the game’s decisive moment.
That said, however, Trencin, once they had got over the inferiority complex of the first half, also asked serious questions of the Hull backline.
Only a couple of desperate tackles by Huddlestone and Liam Rosenior prevented clear goalscoring opportunities after half-time, and Allan McGregor was relieved to see a 30-yard pile-driver from lively midfielder Patrik Misak fly just an inch or so wide of his right-hand post.
Plenty, therefore, for the Tigers to ponder ahead of a second leg that Elmohamady hopes will see the KC packed with tickets slashed to £10.
“When a game is 0-0 after one leg, it can be tough,” said the former Sunderland wideman.
“It can be difficult to approach it right. Anything can happen. An away goal can go in and change things.
“But if we train well next week and concentrate on our jobs, I believe we can get the result.
“Hopefully, our fans will come and fill the stadium. That would be good for us. I am looking forward to the match.
“It is a big first for Hull City.
“Our first home game in Europe and I am sure the fans want to be part of that. I think they will come and the stadium will be full.
“And, hopefully, we can get the result that will make the city and our fans happy.”
Thursday’s first legs included two defeats for the other British sides competing as Aberdeen crashed 2-0 to Real Sociedad in Spain and St Johnstone lost 2-1 at home to Spartak Trnava.
There were also handsome wins for Lyon, Torino, PSV EIndhoven and Bruges as a host of big names entered the fray for the first time.
Among Hull’s fellow debutants, Portugal’s Rio Ave beat IFK Gothenburg while Turkish outfit Kardemir Karabükspor drew 0-0 at home to Rosenborg.
Whoever prevails in next week’s second legs, they will be able to look forward to the likes of Inter Milan, Villarreal and FC Twente joining the fray in the play-off round.
Get to the group stage, meanwhile, and Dynamo Kiev, Fiorentina and Sevilla are among the sides taking part.
Elmohamady said: “We want to get into the group stage. Everyone is desperate to make it – and play against the big teams of Europe.
“That would be great for the fans, too – and everyone to do with Hull. Next week is such a big game,
“An extra week of pre-season training will help. We are still in pre-season and next week we will adjust.
“We will look to go forward more and win that game. We have to win the match and we will do everything to make that happen.”