Saints' Euro dream is far from over, insists Buckley
Skonto Riga 2 St Patrick's Ath 1
They may be down but Liam Buckley maintains that St Patrick’s Athletic are by no means out of Europe despite this loss in Latvia last night.
For 38 minutes it was all going the way of the men from Inchicore and their hardy 80-strong batch of supporters in a sun-soaked Riga as Pat’s absorbed some early pressure from Skonto and took the lead through Aaron Greene.
But Skonto equalised seven minutes before the break, then went in front mid-way through the second half with textbook counter-attacking goals.
So the home fans in the attendance of just 1,780 – most of the seats in this 10,000-capacity stadium were empty despite the low entrance fee of €5 as Latvians clearly have other things to do on a sunny July evening than watch football – will expect their side to progress.
But while a poor home record in Europe counts against the Saints, manager Buckley feels that a place in the second round is within reach.
“It’s not the end of the world, we’re still in the tie. We’re disappointed and I don’t think Skonto deserved to win, a draw would have been a fair result in terms of chances and possession,” he said.
“Could we have won the game? Of course we could, we just need to understand why we didn’t win, where we lost it. If we can knock that out of our game and work on the positive aspects of our game, we will get better.
“It’s there to be won. I just told the players after the match that we have won big games before, we won the league and we won the FAI Cup final last year.
“This home leg next week is a big game and we need to step up to the plate. Lose next week and we’re out, and no way do we want to be out of Europe this early. Are they beatable? Of course they are.”
As their scouting missions had suggested, Skonto were a threat from set-pieces and the Saints defence had to be on guard early on to bat away corner kicks, but on 21 minutes, Greene stepped up to put the visitors in front.
Chris Forrester floated in a lovely ball and Greene reacted quickly to fire his shot past keeper Andrejs Pavlovs, for his second goal in Europe.
The goal seemed to shock the home side and, urged on by their Georgian-born coach Tamaz Petia – a dead ringer for former rugby international Shane Byrne – Skonto ramped it up with three bookings in the space of nine minutes.
And the Saints’ lead lasted only 17 minutes as tricky forward Arturs Karasausks pounced to blast a shot beyond the reach of Brendan Clarke.
Forced to reshape the defence at half-time due to an injury for Ger O’Brien, Pat’s had to absorb some pressure in the second period and on 65 minutes the hosts were in front.
Sprinting from deep inside their own half, Karasausks and Andreks Kovalovs combined to provide the opening for Vladislavs Gutkovskis to score.
With another enforced change at the back after Sean Hoare picked up a knock, Pat’s had to make sure they stood firm and while late efforts from Killian Brennan and James Chambers forced saves, Skonto – knocked out of Europe by Derry City six years ago – were comfortable.
“We’d be disappointed with the two goals we gave away, we were wary of them counter-attacking us from that end, we sat too deep for the first goal. But we’re still in the tie, if we win 1-0 in Dublin we’re through,” Buckley added.
Should they progress, Pat’s are likely to face Debrecen in the next round as the Hungarian side beat Sutjeska 3-0 at home last night.
SKONTO – Pavlovs, Timofejevs, Smirnovs, Renars, Jermolajevs, Kozlovs, Kovalovs, Murillo (Tatiefang 91), Visnakovs (Isajevs 73), Gutkovskis (Lukaniuk 83), Karasausks.
ST PAT’S – Clarke, O’Brien (Desmond 46), Hoare (McGuinness 67), Browne, Bermingham, Chambers, Brennan, Bolger, Forrester, Greene, Fagan (McGrath 73)
Ref – F Jovic (Croatia)