Rebel Army survive late scare to earn Swedish trip
While the threat of a late Linfield winner meant that they were never fully comfortable, Cork City did enough to advance to the second qualifying round of the Europa League at Turner's Cross last night.
Cork City 1 Linfield 1 (Cork City win 2-1 on aggregate)
When Sean Maguire opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 48th minute, it put the home side 2-0 ahead on aggregate and seemingly cruising to a meeting with Sweden's BK Hacken next week.
Linfield ensured that it wouldn't be a procession though as, with their very first effort on target, they got a goal back when defender Mark Stafford met the delivery of former City man Ross Gaynor. Had the Belfast side managed to find another, they would have advanced on away goals but City deserve credit for refusing to sit back and in fact looking the likelier to go 2-1 ahead. That they didn't was largely down to a series of excellent saves from former Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll, who denied Maguire, sub Danny Morrissey and then Gearoid Morrissey to keep the tie alive.
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At the death, City broke through Maguire, who found Morrissey and his pass gave another sub, Mark O'Sullivan, a chance, but once again Carroll saved. It didn't matter though as it was the final action and the Rebel Army progress.
Had they failed, they would have reflected on a first half where they were clearly the better team but couldn't turn that into enough good chances. As early as the tenth minute, Stephen Dooley created an opening for Steven Beattie but Carroll was out quickly to spread himself and save and then Dooley's follow-up effort was stopped by Jamie Mulgrew. It didn't signal a flow of efforts though as Linfield crowded City out when in possession - though Sean Maguire was lively in attack and his trickery did draw a number of free-kicks.
The best of these chances was a dead ball on the edge of the area, but when the ball was rolled to left-back Kevin O'Connor, Stafford charged down his shot. From another free-kick on the left, Dooley rolled the ball to Maguire but his weak effort was blocked too.
At the other end, Linfield found a solid City defence difficult to breach, despite the best efforts of Gaynor and captain Andrew Waterworth. Gaynor felt that he might have had a penalty but Polish referee Bartosz Frankowski adjudged him to have dived.
Three minutes into the second half though, the man in the middle had no hesitation in pointing to the spot after Maguire was pushed by Matthew Clarke. After Carroll received a yellow card for dissent, he got his hand to Maguire's kick but couldn't keep it out and the Cork City contingent in the crowd of 3,521 sensed a relatively easy passage to the next round.
The celebrations were muted just as soon as they had begun, however. Linfield's danger from set-pieces had been well-flagged and Stafford showed why as he got his head to Gaynor's free-kick to make for an interesting last half-hour.
In open play, though, the City defence remained stout and the introductions of Danny Morrissey, O'Sullivan and Colin Healy served to give them an extra dimension. They could and should have scored more, but crucially they avoided conceding another and Sweden awaits.
CORK CITY - McNulty; McSweeney (O'Sullivan 56), Bennett, Browne, O'Connor; G Morrissey, Buckley (Healy 65); Beattie, Holohan (D Morrissey 56), Dooley; Maguire.
LINFIELD - Carroll; Clarke (McLellan 89), Stafford, Haughey, Quinn; Millar (Burns 78), Lowry, Mulgrew, Gaynor; Smith, Waterworth.
Ref - B Frankowski (Poland)
Cork City 1