Saturday 16 December 2017

St Pat's miss out on €1m Celtic bonanza as five-star Legia turn up the heat in Tallaght

St Patrick's Athletic 0 Legia Warsaw 5 (Legia win 6-1 on aggregate)

Dejected St Patrick's Athletic players Killian Brennan (left) and Keith Fahey trudge off the pitch after their Champions League second qualifying round defeat to Legia Warsaw at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Dejected St Patrick's Athletic players Killian Brennan (left) and Keith Fahey trudge off the pitch after their Champions League second qualifying round defeat to Legia Warsaw at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Miroslav Radovic scores Legia Warsaw's first goal in their Champions League second qualifying round win over St Patrick's Athletic. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
St Patrick's Athletic's Mark Quigley beats his Legia Warsaw opponent Lukasz Broz during their Champions League second qualifying round tie. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
St Patrick's Athletic's Killian Brennan evades a challenge from Michal Kucharczyk of Legia Warsaw during their Champions League second qualifying round clash. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
St Patrick's Athletic's Conan Byrne controls the ball under pressure from Tomasz Brzyski of Legia Warsaw during their Champions League second qualifying round tie. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Garry Doyle

On a night when they were completely outclassed, St Patrick's Athletic crashed out of Europe and kissed goodbye to a €1m dream date with Celtic.

That prize now awaits the Polish champions, Legia Warsaw, after they ruthlessly dispatched the Dubliners, scoring five times, two of their goals arriving from the game's class act, Miroslav Radovic, another from Michal Zyro, a fourth, four minutes from time, by substitute Marek Saganowski, before Conan Byrne headed into his own net in stoppage time to complete the rout.

Worse yet, it could have been more. Had Brendan Clarke, the Pat's 'keeper, not played out of his skin then this night could have descended into a complete farce.

It was bad enough, though. By the end, St Pat's were a disorganised mess, not helped either by the fact that three of their defenders picked up injuries just before or during the game, nor by their ambitions to get back into this tie when they went 2-0 down.

Opting to play with three at the back at this point, Pat's suddenly became exposed to a succession of Legia raids. Three times the visitors scored in the last 10 minutes. It could have been more.

And so the dream is over. There will be no trip to Scotland, no clash with Celtic, no cheque with €1m written on it posted to Richmond Park. They're out and deservedly so.

In the build-up to the game, Ger O'Brien, the St Patrick's captain, repeatedly stressed the importance of his side showing the requisite belief they would need to get through this tie. And clearly they were listening in the dressing-room because Pat's opened brightly, showing a real determination to boss possession, which initially they did.

Yet there is a thin line between confidence and overconfidence and O'Brien was guilty of crossing it in the 10th minute when his attempted pass to Keith Fahey was intercepted by Ivica Vrdolijak. And in the blink of an eye trouble arrived. Vrdolijak slipped an incisive, diagonal pass through to Ondrej Duda whose first touch took him clear of Derek Foran before his second forced Clarke, the Pat's 'keeper, into making a smart save.

And from this moment until they got their goal, the pattern of the game shifted, as Legia clicked up through the gears, playing with considerable more rhythm and purpose.

Organised around a 4-1-4-1 formation, the Polish side temporarily abandoned their deep-lying defensive line to instead squeeze more of the play into the St Pat's half, targeting O'Brien's channel on their left-hand side as a go-to area. Yet, despite their attempts to spread the play to the flanks, they struggled to do so, partially because their passing lacked a little zip, but mainly because Pat's retained a solid shape in the face of mounting pressure.

Yet when their preferred strategy failed, they moved to Plan B – opting for a Polish version of tiki-taka as they passed their way through the Pat's midfield and defence on 24 minutes, Michal Zyro providing the crucial pass to find Miroslav Radovic, who comfortably fired his shot beyond Clarke to give Legia the lead.

How would Pat's respond? Initially, poorly as their physical inferiority became a recurring problem when they defended set-plays. And had Legia shown the necessary ambition at this point and raised the tempo, then it could have been 2-0. Instead they purposely reverted to type, defending a little deeper, showing less adventure, knowing they were suddenly in control of their destiny.

The policy nearly backfired, though, when Killian Brennan found Fahey in the 32nd minute and the Irish international's shot took a deflection off Jacub Rzezniczak before Dusan Kuciak, the Legia goalkeeper, in desperation, kicked it away for a corner.

Yet even though Pat's had recovered their composure, Buckley still felt the need to make a change in personnel at half-time, removing Chris Forrester and giving Mark Quigley a chance to make a name for himself.

He certainly had an impact, but was nowhere near as influential as Fahey, who directed affairs from midfield right through the second half, a period when he and Killian Brennan pushed forward more, a necessary strategy given the circumstances, but risky nonetheless, as it left gaps in defence, one of which was nearly exploited by Zyro.

Clarke saved his shot, though, and would later save Foran from embarrassment when the defender's mistake allowed Kucharczyk the opportunity to kill the tie. Instead his high, powerful volley was bravely stopped.

At the other end, Fahey would again come close with a dipping volley, but the painful reality for the Irish champions was that they were gradually getting outplayed by a much classier team.

The difference in quality showed on 69 minutes when Pat's showed precious little resistance to prevent Kucharczyk from sprinting down the left or Zyro from varying the angle of his run to get in an unmarked position inside the Pat's penalty area, where he collected Kucharczyk's pass before shooting low through Clarke's legs.

In response Buckley took a final roll of the dice, removing a defender and opting for 3-5-2 formation in a bid to get something from the tie. It made no difference. They would create another chance, when Greg Bolger shot over after Brennan's free kick had caused momentary panic in the Legia defence, but by now the tie was gone.

Ultimately, they just weren't good enough, a point perfectly illustrated when Radovic got his second, Legia's third in the 82nd minute. Four minutes later Saganowski made it four. Then in stoppage time, Byrne headed into his own net when trying to clear Tomasz Brzyski's cross.

St Patrick's Athletic: Clarke; O'Brien (Hoare 61), Browne (Lynch 72), Foran, Bermingham; Bolger, Fahey, Brennan; Byrne, Fagan, Forrester (Quigley 46).

Legia Warsaw: Kuciak; Jodlowiec, Astiz, Brzyski, Duda (Saganowski 83); Rzezniczak, Broz, Radovic (Piech 86), Zyro, Kucharczyk (Kosecki 83); Vrdoljak.

Referee: A Ekkberg (Sweden).

Irish Independent

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