Slack finishing ends Pat's hopes of Europa League progress
SOME slack finishing put paid to St Patrick’s Athletic's dream of joining Dublin rivals Shamrock Rovers and UCD in the next round of the Europa League.
St Patrick's Athletic 0-2 Skonto Riga (Agg: 1-4)
In a bizarre and unexpected sequence of events in the last week, it’s First Division side UCD who now need to call off their league game next week while Pats have to park their European ambitions for another season, their third season in a row to exit Europe at the first hurdle.
Liam Buckley’s side went into the home leg of their battle with Skonto Riga knowing they needed to score, having lost 2-1 in Latvia a week earlier, and boss Buckley had preached patience to his players.
But despite some impressive attacking play and some decent chances carved out by the Saints’ midfield, the first goal came to the away side and once Vladislavs Sorokins scored, against the run of play, to put Skonto in front on 37 minutes, this particular Eurovision had lost its focus for the FAI Cup holders, as the Saints paid the price for those first-half misses in front of a crowd of 2,354.
Late chances from Ian Bermingham and Jamie McGrath and a disallowed Conan Byrne goal allowed the Saints finish on a slightly positive, if losing, note.
But while the erratic refereeing of Polish referee Tomasz Musial did not help matters, Skonto were just too clever for Pats and used all the tricks in the book to waste time, try to get players booked and basically be the kind of annoyance which angers the Fair Play devotees but which, in the end, helped to win them a place in the next round.
A tie which looked so bright when Aaron Greene had scored to give them a 1-0 lead in Riga was looking very gloomy, and things got worse on 57 minutes when Skonto scored their second of the night, and the fourth of the tie, from the penalty spot to seal the win and meeting with Hungarian side Debrecen in the next round.
Aware they needed at least one goal to get back into the tie overall, the Pats boss adopted a positive approach and made one voluntary change to his XI, Conan Byrne replacing James Chambers in the side while Lee Desmond came in for the injured Sean Hoare in defence.
That attacking promise had its earlier manifestation on 14 minutes when Greene, the scorer in Riga, got his head to a Byrne free kick but the effort was wide, and soon after that Killian Brennan managed to carve out an opening for Chris Fagan but the striker’s shot was wild and well wide.
Byrne tried his luck from a free kick but was off target. On 22 minutes the home side should really have been in front as Skonto enjoyed a bit of good fortune.
A run and shot by Christopher Forrester was indeed on target and after keeper Andrejs Pavlovs made the initial side, defender Renars Rode was there to clear a certain goal off the line.
On 35 minutes Brennan tested keeper Pavlovs with one of the Drogheda native’s trademark free kicks and the Skonto captain had to to tip the effort over the bar.
But seven minutes from time Skonto took their valuable lead, Edgars Jermolajevs sending in a cross which Sorokins met at the far post and knocked past Brendan Clarke.
Pats, aware that Europe was about to pass them by for yet another year, upped their game after the break and six minutes into the second half Byrne forced another save from keeper Pavlovs.
Buckley’s side of course needed to score twice to at least force the game to extra time, and that impressive start to the second half did raise hopes.
But those hopes died on 57 minutes with another debatable decision. Referee penalised Lee Desmond for hand ball in the box and Arturs Karasausks stroked home the spot kick.
On 65 minutes, Buckley looked to his bench to try and get something from the tie as attackers Morgan Langley and Jamie McGrath came on, but Langley’s first contribution was a defensive one as he was needed to clear an effort from Andrejs Kovalovs off the line.
Skonto used all the tricks they had assembled in their long history as a club in UEFA competition to waste time and frustrate the home side.
Skonto’s Ivan Murillo went down in the box clutching his thigh in agony and his dramatic reaction suggested that an ambulance (or an undertaker) was more in order than the physio’s magic sponge but once the referee ignored his anguished pleas, the Colombian got straight up.
Youngster McGrath, impressive in his sub’s role away to Skonto, was a threat and was unfortunate to see an effort come off the woodwork on 73 minutes while Langley was also a man of intent.
Byrne did find the net with four minutes left but it was ruled offside and the Saints now revert to domestic matters, envious of their Euro-bound rivals.