Smith apologises to Boro fans

BY foxsports • February 20, 2013

Juande Ramos needs Dnipro to re-write the history books if he is to win the Europa League for a third time as manager.

The Ukrainian side have to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit when they entertain Basle in Thursday's last-32 return meeting at the Dnipro Arena.

However, Dnipro have never won any European match in the new year in eight attempts in what is traditionally their mid-winter break from domestic action.

They will therefore need to break that run if Spaniard Ramos is to add a third Europa League title to his list of achievements having twice won the competition, when known as the UEFA Cup, in 2006/07 and 07/08 with Sevilla

Only current Republic of Ireland boss, Giovanni Trapattoni, has enjoyed greater success after lifting the trophy with Juventus twice and also Inter Milan.

Dnipro midfielder Ruslan Rotan said: "The first leg was a bad scoreline for us but there is still hope.

"I think we can handle it. We have to believe we can do it. We have to forget what happened in the first leg."

Dnipro will hope to reproduce the goalscoring form that brought them 16 goals in their six group matches - the best record of any side.

The good news for Dnipro is that they have won their last five European home games, a run that has included impressive victories over PSV Eindhoven, Napoli and 2010 Europa League finalists Fulham.

Another plus point for the home side is that Basle captain Marco Streller, who scored the second goal in the first leg, is set to be missing after suffering a knee injury in Sunday's 2-1 league win at Lausanne

However, his absence is likely to pave the way for a return for veteran Alexander Frei who is to retire at the end of the season.

The 33-year-old is the Swiss national side's record goalscorer with 42 goals.

A meeting with Liverpool or Zenit St Petersburg, who also lead 2-0 from the first leg against their Barclays Premier League opponents, awaits the winners in the next round.

The Dons took the lead in the League Two clash at Kingsmeadow through Alan Bennett's first-half header, his first goal since joining on a free transfer at the beginning of the month, but they remain rooted to the foot of the table after Adebayo Akinfenwa's late penalty.

But since Wimbledon's 2-0 loss at Chesterfield on February 9, when Ardley took the unusual step of letting his players talk it out on their own in the dressing room afterwards, they have picked up four points from two games and have a renewed hope of avoiding the drop.

"There is an improvement, obviously we've had two games since and we've done well, we've got four points," said Dons boss Ardley.

"I don't think it was just the players though, I looked at myself - I always do - and we made sure the atmosphere was very positive over the past week or so going into the games and we've kept it going.

"There's a group of lads in there who are fighting for their lives, who are working their absolute socks off for us.

"At times the quality can be a little bit better, but given where we are in the league we'll take the effort, we'll take the energy and we'll take the desire and I'm confident that is going to be enough.

"The tough part is keeping the level of performance high and obviously we have got to make sure when we're not on-song we still know how to grind out results."

James Dunne gave Smith's men the dream start after just nine minutes with the game's opening goal but two goals in 14 second-half minutes meant the Latics left with the points.

And Smith, whose team have now lost eight of their last 10 games, was fuming with their second-half display.

"On the behalf of everyone in that changing room I have to apologise to the fans for the display and the result," he said.

"It is the most disappointed and dejected that I've felt since I've been here and it came out of the blue.

"I thought the first half was probably everything we could have wanted other than to extend our lead because we had opportunities to do that.

"The second half was everything that we really don't want to be about, which was second best and eventually point-less.

"The same guys came out for the second period that performed as decently as they did in the first and they produced a 180-degree shift from the first half.

"Our efforts at goal in the second half were negligible - I don't remember us working their goalkeeper to any real extent - yet in the first half we were the only side that looked like scoring."

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