EX-MIDDLESBROUGH defender Craig Harrison sets off on his latest European journey with Welsh champions The New Saints this week.

Harrison, who played in the Premier League for Boro under Bryan Robson and went on to manage Hartlepool United after having his playing career cut short because of a brutal injury, led TNS to an outstanding unbeaten league campaign last term, winning 30 of 32 games.

But the "next aim", Harrison told The Northern Echo earlier this summer, is European qualification and that starts on Tuesday night when TNS host Decic in the first leg of the first qualifying round of the Champions League.

Even if his side are successful against the Montenegrin side, Harrison is honest enough to admit Champions League qualification is unrealistic for TNS. The Europa League is also a big ask, but the Gateshead-born former defender thinks his side have an opportunity to qualify for the UEFA Europa Conference League - which would be a huge achievement.


Tuesday night's game will be Harrison's 20th as a manager in the Champions League, just six short of Bobby Robson's record for an English manager.

Saints' Champions League hopes were ended by Swedish side Hacken last season before a Europa Conference League defeat to Swift Hesperange.

“Obviously Hacken were very good are right up there with the very best I’ve played against in this competition the years I’ve been involved in it. They were fantastic,” Harrison told the BBC.

"We did think we possibly could done a little bit better against Swift, then to perform and not quite get through against Swift and being knocked out by the odd goal... the draw's been kinder to us this year.

"We think we are in a better position this year than what we were last year to play a team of Swift's calibre.”

Ex-Middlesbrough academy youngster Ryan Brobbel remains a key figure for TNS - whose star striker Brad Young says being stabbed three times and needing life-saving surgery turned out to be a “good thing” for his football career.

Young was 17 when he was attacked in a Solihull park in May 2020 and suffered a 12cm knife wound which needed an operation and three blood transfusions for him to survive.

Four years on he is preparing to play in the Champions League qualification rounds for the Welsh champions and says the incident was a catalyst for change in his career.

“I was in a park with my friends and a random group of lads approached me, attacked me and tried to rob me,” the former Aston Villa academy player told the PA news agency.

“I fought back, the guy that punched me in my face had me in a headlock and I just felt something weird in my back. I let go, looked down and saw I’d been stabbed three times.

“I called the ambulance and then collapsed to the floor. They rushed me into hospital and they didn’t know what was going to happen, one of the stab wounds hit an artery and I lost a lot of blood.

“It was 12cm deep and I needed three blood transfusions, that’s what saved my life. Then I had to wait for the surgery and as I was lying there I was asking whether I could play football again.

“At that age I was messing about and going out, I wasn’t taking football seriously, I was partying, normal stuff 17-year-olds do, but not normal for a footballer to do.

“If anything it was a good thing and it opened my eyes up for what I really wanted to do and what I had been working all my life to do. It just woke me up and realised I had to stop messing about and knuckle down.

“I am proud of myself.”

Young definitely took his second chance with both hands and after loan spells at Ayr and Carlisle, joined TNS in September 2023 and helped the club embark on a record-breaking campaign.

They were invincible in the Welsh Premier Division, where Young won the golden boot with 22 goals, and came within a couple of games of breaking the Guinness World Record for the longest unbeaten run in all competitions.

Now, all the focus is on Europe.

“I am buzzing for it, when I first came this is what I was looking forward to, the big games and hopefully qualifying, that is what attracted me to the club,” said Young.

“To be fair I didn’t even know they (FK Decic) existed, I didn’t know anything about them, but since we have drawn them the staff have been showing us videos and we have been doing analysis on them.

“We believe, we have got more than enough good players. You have got to have confidence, I thoroughly believe we can go through.”