Wednesday 25 April 2018

Buckley seeks cool heads as Saints chase great escape in Bosnia heat

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

A LATE-night showdown awaits St Patrick's Athletic in Bosnia as they look to continue their blossoming relationship with the Europa League.

Silverware may have eluded the Saints in recent seasons, but their fallow trophy cabinet has been compensated by memories of some great nights in this competition and its predecessor, the UEFA Cup.

Tonight is all about getting out of dodge with the tie intact. Based near the Croatian border, opponents NK Siroki Brijeg have a strong squad with a mediocre European record but will be counting on the hot conditions to tire the Irish side, despite the 9.0 local (8.0 Irish time) kick-off.

"The weather will be an issue," St Pat's boss Liam Buckley admitted. "The temperature is supposed to be 35 degrees during the day, and about 25 at night so with the humidity, it'll be tough for us."

Brijeg are playing their first competitive match since May when their domestic season ended, while Pat's are in full flow, with games coming thick and fast. Last week's extra-time, away goals win over Iceland's IBV was followed by a disappointing league defeat to Drogheda United on Sunday.

And Buckley does not think that the lay-off will hinder the opponents who finished second in their domestic league last season.

Preparation

"They would've had a few weeks off and they've now been back around three weeks and had a few preparation matches in the past couple of weeks," he added.

"Siroki Brijeg are a good side, they've either won or finished runners-up in their domestic league and cup for the past few years... so we know it'll be a tough game."

The Inchicore men have made the trip without Pat Flynn who is suffering with concussion and long-term absentee Mark Rossiter who is recovering from knee surgery.

Brazilian Wagner is the Bosnians' main threat, while the rest of the squad comprises players from either side of the border.

Last year they reached the same stage of the competition, going down to an Olimpija Llubjana side who had only scraped past Bohemians in the previous round. They have never made it past the second qualifying round, something St Pat's have done on each of the last three times they have entered.

Taking the tie back to Richmond Park alive will be key and Buckley will hope his side use their football abilities to keep the ball and limit the amount of work they need to do defensively.

If they can escape Bosnia with the tie alive they will back themselves to succeed in Inchicore where conditions will be more to their liking.

Verdict: Siroki Brijeg 2 St Patrick's Ath 1

Irish Independent

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