It was a straight shootout on the final matchday in the Champions League as we travelled to northern France knowing that only a win would be enough to secure a converted European football birth after Christmas. Despite largely dominating the contest we faced an uphill battle when Przemysław Frankowski opened the scoring with a penalty on the hour mark
We fought our way back into the contest with a Sergio Ramos penalty after the defender had initially seen his first penalty attempt saved but a VAR review led to a second chance to convert which he took. Pushing for the second goal that would have been so valuable we found ourselves exposed and Angelo Fulgini scored deep into stoppage time to condemn us to a harsh defeat.
In a tense first half it was us who made the stronger start to the game and the first chance of the game arrived on seven minutes. Kevin Danso’s pass was adjudged by referee Felix Zwayer to be a back pass and an indirect free kick was awarded. Ivan Rakitic laid it short for Nemanja Gudelj whose powerful shot was blocked at close range.
Midway through the first half it was against Rakitic and Djibril Sow who combined as this time this Swiss midfielder nearly turned goal scorer as he broke through the lines but was denied by a good block from Facundo Medina at the last moment.
The best chance of the half also fell our way when Juanlu overlapped down the right and delivered a teasing cross into the near post. Lens initially managed to scramble the ball away but it fell to Rakitic lurking on the edge of the area whose powerful drive was tipped over the crossbar by Brice Samba.
Despite dominating the lion’s share of possession, the final pass or touch let us down on occasion in the final third and we headed down the tunnel for halftime with the score goalless and in need of something to keep our European dream alive.
30 seconds into the second half we had a heart-in-our-mouths moment as Elye Wahi raced clear but Marko Dmitrovic stood firm to palm away his shot from a tight angle, although the linesman’s flag was subsequently raised for offside.
Up the other end we were desperately unlucky not to take the lead as Adrià Pedrosa nipped in on the edge of the six-yard box and managed to get on the end of a Rakitic pass but he saw his effort ricochet off the crossbar.
In a cruel twist of fate on the hour mark a penalty was awarded after Boubakary Soumaré fouled Medina as Lens broke on the counterattack to give the home side a penalty. Frankowski stepped up and confidently converted past Dmitrovic to put our European hopes on the brink.
Looking to hit back straight away a lofted ball over the top was flicked back inside by Torres inside to Youssef -Nesyri who couldn’t generate the power in his shot from a promising position inside the box and Samba was able to get down low to make the save.
With a little over 15 minutes to play we were awarded a penalty after En-Nesyri was dragged back in the box. Ramos stepped up but saw his effort saved. However, following a VAR review Bamba was ruled to have come off his line and so a retake was ordered.
This time there was no mistake the second time from the spot as Ramos showed nerves of steel to Panenka the ball down the middle and set up a grandstand finish at the Bollaert-Delelis and give us hope.
Ramos was the man at the centre of it all in the closing stages as he then chipped a ball into the box that found En-Nesyri but the Moroccan couldn’t direct his header goalbound as we pushed on.
Pedrosa was electric down the wing and with the clock about to tick into injury time delivered yet another dangerous cross that En-Nesyri knocked down but the referee’s whistle halted our attack.
In the dying embers of the game a long throw in from Kike Salas was flicked on towards Ramos but he shot over. It proved to be our last chance to find a dramatic winner as in the dying second Lens went on the counterattack and having committed players forward in the attack we found ourselves exposed at the back. Fulgini took advantage to race clear and score a heartbreaking last-minute winner on the night, as ultimately our European dreams this season fade.