Mahon elated as gritty Saints prove they're in it for long haul
A proud Pete Mahon hailed the courage and energy of his players after a 5,000km trip to Kazakhstan culminated with a result that keeps St Patrick's Athletic's Europa League qualification hopes alive.
The Saints were four minutes away from a draw, with a 79th-minute equaliser from Dave McMillan having put them in an extremely strong position.
However, they were foiled by Karagandy defender Nikola Vasiljevic, who ventured forward in the closing stages to grab a winner.
Vasiljevic had earlier given the hosts a 52nd-minute lead to delight the partisan 12,000-strong crowd. Both his goals came from set-piece situations, a disappointment for Mahon given that his side would expect to suffer in different areas in European competition.
Nevertheless, after a nightmare trip, the Saints know that a 1-0 win in Inchicore would be enough to progress. They start their journey home today via Abu Dhabi, arriving in Dublin tomorrow morning.
Mahon says the fortitude shown by his squad has arguably made this adventure his highlight in the Richmond Park hotseat.
"It would have to be, when I think of all the obstacles put in our way, the hassle with visas, the travelling here within the country and people messing us around," he said. "It was a great night, and I'm so proud of the players.
"I was afraid the players might tire given the trip we had to get here but they actually got stronger as the game went on."
The crucial away goal from McMillan came after a Stephen Bradley free-kick was pushed to safety. Ian Daly swung the ball back in and the young Dubliner did the rest. McMillan's brother Evan also hit the post, and Paul Crowley had a shot cleared off the line.
However, Gary Rogers made a fine save after Vasiljevic completed his brace, so the Saints party will travel home reasonably content.
"It will take a monumental effort to go through," stressed Mahon. "One-nil would do us but I think we may need more because these are a very good team."
Karagandy will arrive in Ireland on Monday, leaving plenty of time for preparation, a sharp contrast from the Saints' build-up. Still, Mahon is hoping that home advantage could prove significant.
"If we can get a good crowd into Richmond then we'll have a chance," he said.