Aidan Fitzmaurice

SAINT Patrick's Athletic can have few complaints about recent European exits at at hands of big clubs like Hertha Berlin, Legia Warsaw and Steaua Bucharest..

But last night's home defeat, 2-0 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate, to Latvian outfit Skonto Riga is more a case of 'one that got away' from the Dublin club. Unlike Legia, Skonto are a very ordinary outfit and will not go too far in the Europa League but they have managed to go further that the Saints.

And 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 due to their remarkable Euro display in Luxembourg while Pats have to park their European ambitions for another year, their third season in a row to exit Europe at the first hurdle.

Skonto were there for the taking in Riga and in Dublin, but an inability to take their chances and the sin of being caught on the counter attack inflicted a mortal wound to the men from Inchicore, who are left to ponder what might have been.

"That's one of those ties that we left behind us," Saints defender Ian Bermingham told The Herald.


"Coming to Dublin, with a goal from the away leg, we had a chance, we felt we were in a great position but we were hit with a sucker punch in the first half and then a dodgy penalty in the second half.

"It's been disappointing for us so far this season overall. We haven't been getting that bit of luck we needed, last night was an example of that with the penalty that was given.

"We had some great chances in the whole game, we could have scored a few in the second half, I know I had a great chance, Jamie McGrath hit the post, we had the chances but just couldn't finish them and they took their two chances - I don't think they caused us any bother apart from the two they scored.

"We had tons of chances but didn't put them away and at European level you need to be clinical or else you'll lose.

"We have to get back out on the training ground, work hard and hope that things go well for us in the league and the FAI Cup," added ex-UCD man Bermingham, who praised the feat of his old club in Luxembourg last night.

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. 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.

"They were cuter than us in terms of the things you need to do to win a tie," added a frustrated Bermingham.

"Their centre forward was at it the whole game, he was going down injured and killing time when they were 1-0 up, that's what you are up against at this level and maybe we need to be a bit cuter in that regard, you need to do anything you can to get through.

"We just don't do that in this country with our football culture, we don't go on like that.

"So it's disappointing to go out, we had enough chances to win the tie but we didn't take them, they had two chances in Dublin and scored twice. We could have been there until the cows came home and not score."

The Saints had enough chances in the opening 35 minutes to be 3-0 up but they were profligate and 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.


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.

Polish referee Tomasz Musial penalised Lee Desmond for hand ball in the box and Arturs Karasausks stroked home the spot kick. Subs Jamie McGrath and Morgan Langley added some bite to Pats but it was too late.

st patrick's athletic 0 skonto riga 2 (1-4 agg)