JOSH DANIELS believes Glenavon’s shock victory over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde at Mourneview Park has to be ranked as one of biggest European wins for an Irish League side in quite some time.
The former Derry City winger netted a 59th minute winner for the Lurgan Blues in Wednesday night’s Europa League first leg, first round tie as they came from behind to clinch a first European win in 23 years.
It was a remarkable feat given Manchester United legend, Solskjaer’s side are midway through their league campaign while part-timers, Glenavon were understrength with ex-Northern Ireland midfielder, Sammy Clingan, James Singleton and Andrew Mitchell among the absentees.
Erik Hestad had fired Molde in front on 36 minutes but that was quickly cancelled out by Rhys Marshall who headed home the equaliser.
And Marshall turned provider with a lung-busting counter attack as he found Daniels who slotted home from wide to send Glenavon into dreamland.
Molde missed a penalty with five minutes to go to ensure a memorable night at Mourneview which will live long in the memory for Daniels and fellow Derry man, Niall Grace who got his first taste of European football.
For me personally to score my first European goal, there’s not too many people can say they’ve scored a winner in a European tie.Josh Daniels
Daniels has been in Europe twice before with Derry City as an unused substitute against Shaktjor Soligorsk over two legs in 2014 while he came on for the final 10 minutes in the 6-1 defeat to FC Midjilland last season in Denmark.
This was his first start and he insists it was a ‘special night’.
“It was definitely a nice feeling,” said the Galliagh man. “If you were at the game you wouldn’t think we were underdogs. “For me personally to score my first European goal, there’s not too many people can say they’ve scored a winner in a European tie, especially in Northern Ireland.
“I’m delighted but I’m not getting ahead of myself. It’s only half-time in the tie. It would be nice to go through but it’s a tough ask.”
No one gave the Lurgan Blues a chance given they were only beginning pre-season and pre-booked holidays had severely weakened their chances.
There’s still plenty to do in the tie and Daniels isn’t taking anything for granted given the quality of the opposition.
“Boys like Niall Grace have come in and he hasn’t even played Irish Premiership football yet and he didn’t look out of place.
“We’re only halfway there but we’re still optimistic. We have something to hold onto but we know they’re an amazing side with some great players and it was nice to play on the same pitch as them.
“I’m delighted. Last year I only scored two all last season and I wasn’t happy with that. Hopefully I can kick on now I’ve scored in my first competitive game this year especially against a quality outfit. It will give me confidence and hopefully I can get a lot more goals this season.”
As a Man United fan Daniels admitted he was ‘star struck’ when 1999 Champions League hero Solskjaer congratulated him after the match.
“I was star-struck a wee bit,” he admitted. “There was boys getting photos with him after the game. He came over and patted me on the back and said ‘I’ll see you next week in Norway, all the best’ and I was like ‘okay see you after’,” he laughed.
“I would never bother people for photos I would feel like I’m being a nuisance but it was nice and a bit surreal.
“He said it was a pleasure to watch us and never seen a team work as hard.
“I would say it’s probably been one of the best victories from an Irish League side in Europe in a long, long time.”
It was also the first time his 12 week old daughter Zahra attended one of his matches and he reckons she’s his ‘lucky charm’.
“It was a special night for me personally. It was the first night my wee girl was at a match so she was my good luck charm. So I did it for her.”
Fatherhood has given him a fresh motivation and he dedicated his winning goal to Zahra.
“It’s been amazing it’s the best thing that’s ever happened me. Every time I’m playing matches now it’s in my head that I’m doing it for her,” he added.
“It gets to a stage in football when you’re thinking where you motivation is coming from but she’s definitely my motivation.”
While Wednesday night’s heroics will give Glenavon plenty of confidence, Daniels knows they need another huge effort in the return leg next Thursday night.
“Last night was amazing. It won’t be forgotten in a hurry that’s for sure. We’re going to give it 100 per cent in the away leg. They’re a class team so we’re not going to jump the gun yet.”