Fagan gives Saints reason to dream
Dinamo Minsk 1 St Patrick's Athletic 1
History has conditioned St Patrick's Athletic to be wary of first-leg advantages in Europe, yet their performance in Belarus last night suggests they can be optimistic heading into next Thursday's return meeting at Richmond Park.
Christy Fagan, just like he did two years ago in the Champions League 1-1 draw with Legia Warsaw, grabbed a vital away goal nine minutes into the second half to cancel out the opener from Vladimir Korytko in front of a sparse crowd at the Traktor Stadium.
The Saints were duly hammered 5-0 by the Poles in the second leg and the lessons from that humbling will be vital if Liam Buckley's men are to negotiate a route to the lucrative third round of the Europa League.
As well as the financial reward - which would hike their prize-money by another €220,000 to €630,000 - further incentive to complete the job exists for the Dubliners in the fact they'll be seeded in the next round, thereby avoiding the likes of West Ham United, Panathinaikos or their previous conquerors, Hertha Berlin.
Before any such heady heights can be considered, St Pat's must eliminate Dinamo, still quite a task against a side aiming to reach the group stages for a third season running.
"We all know how strong a side Dinamo Minsk are but they scored from their only shot of the first half," reasoned Buckley.
"The players and I were relaxed at half-time because we knew we could get back into the tie and Christy produced a fantastic finish from the edge of the box.
"Maybe we caught them on the hop a bit. Now Dinamo now have to win the game in Dublin next week and that's their bottom line.
"From our perspective, we have been here before and we can't get too carried away by any stretch of the imagination.
"However, we are well in the tie, it's there to be won and we'd hope for a bumper crowd in Inchicore next week."
Coming into the fixture on the back of four straight league defeats, the Saints managed to put domestic form aside by settling into the tie against a far superior outfit to the Luxembourg opposition they edged past on away goals last week.
Billy Dennehy headed over for the visitors in the best of the early chances but Dinamo soon began to stretch the Saints, forging ahead on 25 minutes with a curling effort by veteran Vladimir Korytko from the edge of the box.
It was a rare piece of class in an otherwise patchy opening 45 minutes and the Saints emerged for the second half carrying the purpose of a side capable of snaffling the precious present of an away goal from their travels.
Similar to the breakthrough goal, the equaliser was sourced from the left-side, with Ian Bermingham advancing with pace and laying the ball into the direction of Fagan.
The former Manchester United trainee possessed the composure to look up and bend his shot into the far corner.
Despite losing Fagan to injury shortly afterwards, and the hosts looking the fitter side in the latter stages, the Saints held out to take home a springboard towards the next round.
Whether they can optimise its use remains to be seen.
"Everyone should be fit for next week and we'll be fully prepared for what's to come," vowed Buckley.
"This is a good result, especially from a league perspective because we've been hearing the local media say they felt that Belarussian teams had the upper hand on Irish clubs. There are big expectations on Dinamo going through to the third round, the play-off and then the group stages again."
St Pat's Athletic - Clarke; O'Brien, D Dennehy, Hoare, Bermingham; G Kelly, Treacy (Cawley 72); Byrne, Timlin (Verdon 79), B Dennehy; Fagan (Corcoran 79).
Ref - S Jovanovi (Srb)