Wednesday 21 February 2018

Doyle strike sends Saints on march to Kazakhstan

ST PATRICK'S ATH 2, IBV 0, (St Pat's win 2-1 on aggregate), Ruaidhri O'Connor

THE administration staff at St Patrick's Athletic have known some challenging times in recent years, but last night the players gave them their toughest task yet.

The Saints are off to Kazakhstan thanks to this victory over Iceland's IBV Vestmannaeyjar -- if they were marching it would take them more than three months, through 15 countries, including Iran.

But they have just six days to arrange visas, flights and accommodation in a destination that is closer to the Mongolian border in the east than the Russian one in the west.

The club have faced some difficult trips before, visiting Sovetov in Russia as well as Romania, Moldova, Sweden, Germany and Latvia in recent times, but their 10,412km round trip is unprecedented in Irish club football.

Such is the price of success in Europe and the players earned their second qualifying round clash with Shakhter Karagandy by virtue of their exploitation of IBV's weakness at set-pieces.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg in Reykjavik, the Saints were ahead on aggregate at half-time against the visitors, who were slick in possession but susceptible to the high ball.

Their goalkeeper Abel Dhaira won't have been popular on the flight home. The Ugandan was balancing the ball on his neck in the opening stages and wasting time from the off, quickly becoming the pantomime villain.

Pete Mahon opted against using the struggling Dave Mulcahy and fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Danny North the lone striker.

The opening stages had been even, with Dhaira saving at the feet of North and Gary Rogers having to be alert at the other end to deny Thorarinn Ingi Valdimarsson.

All week the hosts had been confidently talking up their chances of scoring after a first leg in which they went close, and Ian Daly proved them right after brilliant retrieval work from Daryl Kavanagh.


Stephen Bradley's free looked to have been overhit, but the Tipperary native didn't give up and skipped past Rasmus Steenburg Christiansen, pulling back a cross that Dhaira couldn't hold and, with his back to goal, the former Manchester City man hooked the ball home.

Inchicore erupted, but it could have been shortlived as Tryggvi Guomundsson beat Ian Bermingham to Valdimarsson's cross, only to be denied by Rogers' foot.

The locals weren't content with level pegging at half-time, however, and they took the aggregate lead through Derek Doyle after another set-piece.

The Icelandic side allowed three headers in their box as North flicked on Bradley's delivery, Evan McMillan sent it back into the mix and Doyle beat Dhaira from inside the six-yard box.

Daly could have made it three before the break, but his shot was straight at Dhaira, and Kavanagh could have killed it after the break with two shots saved by the 'keeper.

North set him up for the best chance of the bunch but Kavanagh cut on to his left and mis-hit a shot that flew harmlessly wide, before McMillan headed another fine Bradley delivery just wide. English full-back Matt Garner slashed wide for IBV, before Rogers had to be sharp to save Guomundsson's free.

The Saints faced a nervy finish when centre-half Brian Shortall was forced off and had to be replaced by Anto Murphy, who is usually a winger, but they had a chance to close it out when Paul Crowley connected with Derek Pender's cross, but it was straight at Dhaira.

Kevin Mellor headed former Birmingham man Bryan Hughes' corner over and Garner should have scored twice in injury-time, firing straight at Rogers before heading a Gudmundsson corner just wide as the Saints held on. Their adventure is only just beginning.

ST PATRICK'S ATH -- Rogers; Pender, Shortall (Murphy 83), E McMillan, Bermingham; Bradley, McFaul, Kavanagh, Daly (Crowley 76), Doyle; North (D McMillan 87).

IBV VESTMANNAEYJAR -- Dhaira; Mellor, Sigurbjornsson, Christiansen, Garner; F Olafsen (Hughes 74), Mawejje, Vladimarsson (Thorarinsson 80); Jeffs (Sytnik 62), A Olafsen; Guomundsson.

REF -- N Dunauskas (Lithuania).

Irish Independent

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