Match ends, The New Saints 4, Shkendija 0.
The New Saints fell just short despite an extraordinary second-leg comeback against Shkendija in their Champions League qualifier.
Trailing 5-0 following the first leg in Macedonia, first-half goals from Dean Ebbe, Danny Redmond and Ben Cabango gave Saints hope.
Substitute Kurtis Byrne scored in injury time but Saints could not find a fifth to force extra time at Park Hall.
Saints now drop into the Europa League and will face Lincoln Red Imps.
Although the Welsh champions bow out of the Champions League, they restored pride with an excellent performance.
Manager Scott Ruscoe had said before the game that his side faced "too high" a hurdle to reach the second qualifying round following the heavy defeat in Skopje, with the aim to restore pride.
Ruscoe had promised changes and Zane Lewis and Aeron Edwards started in place of Simon Spender and Ryan Brobbel.
Saints made a promising start with plenty of early possession and they went ahead on 16 minutes.
Striker Ebbe broke through the Shkendija defence and coolly slotted the ball under goalkeeper Kostadin Zahov.
The hosts were firmly on top after taking the lead, with Chris Marriott and Jon Routledge both going close before Ebbe wasted a golden opportunity with only the keeper to beat.
Saints were looking dangerous pushing forward but Shkendija responded on the counter-attack and Paul Harrison was called upon to save from Junior.
But the Welsh Premier champions deservedly extended their lead moments later when Redmond netted his first goal for the club, finishing Jamie Mullan's cross.
An unlikely comeback was now on and Cabango, on loan from Swansea City, scored Saints' third from Redmond's free-kick to leave his side needing only two further goals to force extra time.
Shkendija made the expected changes at half-time and the first leg's four-goal hero Besart Ibraimi was introduced in place of Shefit Shefiti.
Saints continued to press forward after the break and Routledge came close to adding a fourth but his effort was cleared off the line.
But Shkendija, with Ibraimi in particular, looked dangerous on the counter and Saints had to defend resolutely to keep out the away goal which would have killed the tie.
Saints came close to adding a fourth with substitute Draper denied by Zahov before Routledge struck the post and Aeron Edwards' shot from the rebound was blocked in a frantic goalmouth scramble.
Byrne volleyed home Saints' fourth from Marriott's cross in injury time to set up a frantic finale, which also saw Ibraimi hit the crossbar for the visitors.
The New Saints
- 1HarrisonBooked at 72mins
- 4HollandSubstituted forByrneat 89'minutes
- 10RedmondSubstituted forCieslewiczat 83'minutes
- 3MarriottBooked at 88mins
- 6RoutledgeBooked at 58mins
- 14MullanBooked at 71mins
- 17EbbeSubstituted forDraperat 56'minutes
- 11ShefitiSubstituted forIbraimiat 45'minutes
- 6MusliuBooked at 88mins
- 4BejtulaiBooked at 45mins
- 17ZejnulaiSubstituted forCheshmedzhievat 89'minutes
- 77TodorovskiSubstituted forRadeskiat 45'minutes
- 18da Fonseca Salazar Junior
- Pavel Orel
Second Half ends, The New Saints 4, Shkendija 0.
Goal! The New Saints 4, Shkendija 0. Kurtis Byrne (The New Saints) right footed shot from more than 35 yards to the centre of the goal.
Substitution, The New Saints. Kurtis Byrne replaces Tom Holland.
Substitution, Shkendija. Konstantin Cheshmedzhiev replaces Arbin Zejnulai.
Chris Marriott (The New Saints) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Visar Musliu (Shkendija) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Substitution, The New Saints. Adrian Cieslewicz replaces Daniel Redmond.
Paul Harrison (The New Saints) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Jamie Mullan (The New Saints) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Jonathon Routledge (The New Saints) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Substitution, The New Saints. Greg Draper replaces Dean Ebbe.
Substitution, Shkendija. Marjan Radeski replaces Blagoja Todorovski.
Substitution, Shkendija. Besart Ibraimi replaces Shefit Shefiti.
Second Half begins The New Saints 3, Shkendija 0.
First Half ends, The New Saints 3, Shkendija 0.
Egzon Bejtulai (Shkendija) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Goal! The New Saints 3, Shkendija 0. Ben Cabango (The New Saints) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal.
Goal! The New Saints 2, Shkendija 0. Daniel Redmond (The New Saints) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal.
Goal! The New Saints 1, Shkendija 0. Dean Ebbe (The New Saints) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal.