What looked like becoming a night of utter desolation for Sligo Rovers became somewhat more palatable after a bizarre ending in which Vllaznia's 'keeper saw red, the home side missed a penalty and the ref seemed to miss another potential red card for the visitors.
But Raf Cretaro's converted 88th minute penalty gives Sligo a glimmer of hope for next week's return leg in Albania, and that is as good as they could have wished for after a disastrous second half spell in which they conceded twice in five minutes.
Dritan Smalji broke the deadlock with a rasper from 25 yards on 69 minutes and Alan Keane, who was later to miss a penalty, deflected Ndricim Shtubina's cross into his own net to give the travelling fans more than enough to cheer for.
But the action was far from over, as a red card and two penalties gave Sligo a route back into the tie, and they could even have snatched a draw in the five minutes of stoppage time but Romauld Boco shot straight at substitute 'keeper Olti Bishani and they now need a two goal victory to progress to the next round.
A dominant Sligo first half display failed, somehow, to produce a goal for the home side as they went close on a number of occasions without ever really forcing Vllaznia 'keeper Armir Grimaj into a notable save
Owen Morrison has probably never seen more of the ball in one half of football and it was his deliveries which did most to test the Albanians. Frequently cutting back onto his favoured right foot on the left flank, Morrison needed to be accurate to pick out the pint-sized front duo of Raf Cretaro and Romauld Boco, and managed about a 50% success rate in the first period.
Boco's mazy run in the 9th minute gave Morrison an opportunity to display his dead-ball expertise but his effort from the edge of the area was high and not so handsome. Further dangerous crosses followed on 16, 30, 37, 38, and 44, to which Cretaro failed to control the one on the half hour mark when ideally placed. Boco glanced the next one wide before Boco should really have scored just before the break but couldn't keep his volley down and the woodwork was struck from close range.
With that in mind, you would think Vllaznia were overrun but they did pose a threat of sorts when they bothered to get out of first gear. Marko Basic fired in a shot from all of 35 yards on 11 minutes which Richard Brush held cleanly, before Vioresin Sinani worked a yard of space in the 18th minute but could only toe-poke over. Still, a cautious approach would most aptly describe their early efforts.
They did improve in the second half, though, and matched Sligo until Smalji abandoned his right wing to drift into the inside left channel and drill a shot past the despairing dive of Richard Brush. A dagger to the heart of Sligo hopes it was and the own goal that soon followed doubled the natives agony.
But the endgame leaves the North Westerners still with a sniff of European glory.....just.
Sligo Rovers: Richard Brush; Alan Keane, Danny Ventre, Steve Feeney (Jason Noctor, 64), Shaun Holmes; Brian Cash (Sean Doherty, 73), Conor O'Grady, Richie Ryan, Owen Morrison; Romauld Boco, Raf Cretaro.
Subs not used: Ciaran Kelly, Eoin Torpey, Chris Kelly, Danny Keohane, Gavin Peers.
KS Vllaznia Shkoder: Armir Grimaj; Dritan Smalji, Safet Osja, Zeljko Mrvaljevic, Elvin Beqiri; Amarildo Belisha, Illir Nallbani, Ndricim Shtubina, Rraman Hallaçi; Vioresin Sinani (Bekim Balaj, 84), Fetim Kasapi (Olti Bishani, 88).
Subs not used: Alis Baki, Marko Basic, Edon Hasani, Armando Vajushi, Ansi Nika.
Referee: Christof Virant (Belgium).
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Conor O'Grady (Sligo Rovers).