KEN McKENNA’S prayers for a favourable draw in the Champions League first qualifying round went unanswered with The New Saints paired against Latvian side Ventspils.
The Welsh Premier champions had hoped to land a side out of season – but the draw made in Nyon, Switzerland pits them against the highly-rated Latvians, currently fourth in the Visliga with 24 points from 14 games.
The Saints will be at home at Newtown in the first leg on Tuesday or Wednesday, July 17 or 18, with the return a week later.
McKenna admits his side will have their work cut out against Ventspils, who last season drew 0-0 with Newcastle United at St James’ Park before losing just 1-0 at home to go out on aggregate.
“I thought this year we would get a bit more luck, but this is one of the toughest draws we could have had,” he said.
“They only lost by one goal to Newcastle over two legs but the big disappointment for me is that they’ve already had 14 league games while we’re out of season.
“Match sharpness is going to be a big problem again, but we’ve got to make sure we’re in the best shape possible and get our preparations right regardless of what they do.
“The one positive is that we’ve got the home leg first, which has not happened very often for us, and we might surprise them.”
One consolation for McKenna was that his side missed top seeds Dinano Zagreb in the draw.
Should Saints beat Ventspils, they will face Red Bull Salzburg in the second qualifying round.
TNS now embark on three friendlies in eight days in Northern Ireland, starting with a trip to Dungannon Swifts today.
They also take on Glentoran and Linfield next week.