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Doyle seals the deal as Saints march on

BETTER teams have lost at Richmond Park in recent years, but the plot-line of this tie ranks this achievement up there with the best of St Patrick's Athletic's laudable European exploits.

After an arduous 5,000km trip to Kazakhstan last week, which devoured the financial reward of eliminating Icelandic opposition in the first round, a bug in the Saints camp hindered their preparations for the return against a team with the resources to have a smoother journey.

It didn't prevent Pete Mahon's men from producing a display of immense spirit to advance to the third round of the Europa League qualifiers. For the third time in four years, a Pat's side has progressed through two stages of European competition.

The dubious prize is a lengthy jaunt to Ukraine. Whatever happens, the Saints can reflect with pride on how they have flown the flag for a league that badly needs nights like this. The only regret is that Inchicore, where they are now unbeaten in 10 European outings, is unfit to stage the next round.

"It matches anything that has been seen before," said an overjoyed Mahon. "Everybody here is supposed to be part-time. I knew we had a bit of luck at times, but the players deserved that."

It was always going to be a nervous evening for the Richmond Park faithful, with Shakhter's approach to the game hardly conducive to relaxation. They have a side packed with aerial threats, none more so than giant centre-half Nikola Vasiljevic who scored twice in the first leg. Anytime the visitors won a throw in the Saints half, the cavalry marched forward. It was more Kazakhstoke than Kazakhstan.

That said, they had some tidy ball players too and could have silenced the Inchicore din in the opening exchanges, with the lone striker in their 4-2-3-1, Sergiei Khiznichenko, fluffing his lines.

Mahon deployed a similar system and, with the natives threatening from set-pieces, the concentration of both defences was tested.

In the 14th minute, the Kazakhs were outfoxed. Daryl Kavanagh burrowed down the right to force a corner which skipper Stephen Bradley swung into the danger zone. Amid a crowd of bodies, centre-half Evan McMillan rose highest to dispatch and put the Saints ahead on away goals.

To their credit, Mahon's men didn't switch off. Scares were frequent. Another long throw was flicked on to Vasiljevic, who skimmed the bar and slammed the ground with anguish.

The feeling of injustice belonged to the League of Ireland side at the interval, however, after the Belgian ref Sebastian Delferiere waved away an obvious penalty claim in a particularly bruising stage of a physical encounter. Saints' players were apoplectic when the fit-again Daniel North had a shot blocked by the outstretched hand of Kairat Utabayev, who had gone to ground.

Still, the Saints were in the driving seat and Karagandy coach Viktor Kumykov didn't keep his players too long in the dressing room. They emerged with purpose and forged a chance within a minute.

But it took them another 20 to really create a notable one. It was only sporadic unforced errors from the Dubliners that gave them encouragement. Maksat Bayshanov skipped into space with the Saints stretched and called 'keeper Gary Rogers into action -- fortunately, the loose ball fell to a red and white shirt.

Relief turned to jubilation as Pat's responded by doubling their advantage. The catalyst was the determination of right-back Derek Pender, who stormed forward to deliver a teaser which left Utabayev and goalkeeper Aleksandr Mokin in a quandary. Derek Doyle had the conviction to throw his right leg at the ball and stab it into the unguarded net.

With a cushion of sorts, the Saints found their passing range for a brief spell, with Bradley prominent. But there were deep breaths all round as a well-worked free was wasted by Shakhter's Gediminas Vicius.

The respective benches were utilised in the final quarter, with Shakhter forced to commit and the hosts sensing blood on the counter-attack; Mokin brilliantly tipped over a Bradley free arising from one such break.

After that, the priority was containment. They saw out the remainder to grab deserved acclaim.

St Patrick's AthletiC -- Rogers, Pender, Shortall, E McMillan, Bermingham; Bradley, McFaul, Kavanagh, Daly (Mulcahy 83), Doyle (Murphy 84); North (D McMillan 76)

Shakhter Karagandy -- Mokin, Utabayev (Bormantaev 80), Dzidic, Vasiljevic, Kirov; Bayshanov, Vicius, Konysbayev, Petronijevic (Dosmanbetov 73), Kukeyev; Khiznichenko.

Ref -- S Delferiere (Belgium)

Irish Independent