Derry bring curtain down on Euro hopes
Derry City 0 Trabzonspor 3 (Trabzonspor win 7-2 on aggregate)
THE final whistle at the Brandywell had significance beyond this game; it also brought down the curtain on League of Ireland participation in European football this season.
Shamrock Rovers' shock progression to the Europa League group stages two years ago delivered the novelty of involvement until December; the fact that it's all over by August this time around represents an alarming decline.
It is unfair on Derry that, by virtue of timing, their reverse confirmed a whitewash in Europe for the first time since 1999.
All four clubs have fallen at their first hurdle, yet it was the Candystripes who were presented with the steepest obstacle, a blue chip opponent from one of the top 10 leagues in the continent. Trabzonspor have expectations of being around for the 14 part of the 2013/14 campaign.
Therefore, while the collective performances this year have been frustrating – even though the conquerors of Drogheda and St Patrick's Athletic both comfortably progressed to the next round – there was no stench of failure in the Brandywell at full-time.
Instead, the hosts were given a warm ovation as they left the field, as they made their vaunted opponents work for 56 minutes before their superior ability really shone through.
A slightly chaotic 4-2 defeat in Trabzon last Thursday left Declan Devine's men requiring two goals without concession to cause a mammoth upset. To achieve it, the game plan required an encounter with less incident and, in that regard, the first half was a success.
While Trabzonspor comfortably enjoyed more possession, Derry managed to keep a reasonable shape and restrict the visitors to speculative efforts.
The hot favourites did win a series of corners, an avenue where they enjoyed considerable joy in the initial meeting, but Derry were better organised this time around and competently dealt with the menacing deliveries of Polish playmaker Adrian Mierzejewski.
Devine sprung a surprise by leaving out the highly regarded Barry McNamee and introducing recognised centre-half Ryan McBride to support Barry Molloy and Ruaidhri Higgins in the engine room, but his logic became obvious with the physicality of the newcomer ruffling the blue shirts and providing an aerial threat.
With lone striker David McDaid putting in an admirable shift to hold play up, there were opportunities for the middle men to get forward and on the half-hour mark Higgins nearly broke the deadlock when his header from an Eoghan Osborne delivery was just about gathered by 'keeper Onur Kivrak.
The chance of the half duly fell to the visitors, however, when Mierzejewski brilliantly trapped a poor Osborne defensive header into the path of right winger Volkan Sen, whose effort clipped off goalkeeper Ger Doherty, allowing Simon Madden to race back and make a heroic goal-line clearance.
Trabzonspor coach Mustafa Resit Akcay made two switches at the break, but Derry emerged for a good spell and another Higgins header from a Paddy Kavanagh corner was tipped over.
Sadly, the breakdown of the subsequent delivery led to a counter-attack that wrapped up the tie for the Turks. Calamitous defending assisted, with a slow response to a ricochet culminating in Madden getting in Doherty's way and Paulo Henrique tapping home.
Trabzonspor sensed blood, threatening three times before the hour mark to put an emphatic look on the scoreline, with Brazilian striker Henrique a potent threat.
Derry regrouped, vainly in search of three goals but realistically looking for one to at least claim a result on the night.
McNamee was sent into the fray and he was followed by Michael Duffy, a promising youth who was lining out in the underage Foyle Cup 12 months ago.
That illustrated the step-up that players from an increasingly younger league face in European competition and, to their credit, the fresh faces acquitted themselves well. Indeed, they were prominent in the search for a leveller on the night, with McNamee off target with a volley following excellent work from Madden.
The better Derry chances always seemed to lead to an even more menacing response, though, and when Trabzonspor broke, Sen squared and Henrique applied the finishing touch. An injury-time strike from Ozdemir added insult to injury.
With two draws and six losses from eight outings, the League of Ireland contribution to the UEFA co-efficient for this season is likely to be the lowest from any of the 53 leagues. Worryingly, there's no guarantee that next year will be any better.
Derry City– Doherty, Madden, S McEleney, Greacen, Osborne; Molloy; Kavanagh (Duffy 73), McBride (Houston 78), Higgins, P McEleney (McNamee 63); McDaid.
Trabzonspor – Kivrak, Yavru, Yumlu, Kacar (Demir 45), Celustka; Akgun, Colman (Ozdemir 45); Sen, Mierzejewski (Aydogdu 83), Adin; Henrique.
Ref – M Lerjeus (Sweden)