Tuesday 21 November 2017

Goal-hero fagan calls on Saints to keep focus

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IT is the definition of home advantage. Since the turn of the century, St Patrick's Athletic have played 10 competitive European games at Richmond Park. The outcome? Eight wins, two draws and many happy memories.

Shamrock Rovers may have trumped everyone with their remarkable exploits 12 months ago, but, in terms of consistency, the Saints have served domestic football better than any other club in the past decade.

Should they finish the job against Bosnian side Siroki Brijeg this evening, they will have progressed through two rounds for the fourth time in five seasons. And they didn't play in Europe in the odd year out, 2010.

A different manager has been in charge for each European run, and the personnel have drastically changed year on year. The one constant is the manner in which their unique home, tucked away behind a row of houses, has deceived decent opposition from around the continent. Better teams than Brijeg have fallen here.

The ironic nature of the reward for advancing is that their humble abode is unsuitable for the third round of the Europa League. A money-spinning tie with Bundesliga side Hannover 96 awaits the winners and next Thursday's first leg would take place in Tallaght if they were to go through.

Nobody is getting too far ahead of themselves, however.

Siroki Brijeg are more likely to be suited to the narrow confines of the Dublin 8 venue than previous visitors.

In truth, the Saints should be coming into this game with a one-goal lead. After holding a 1-0 advantage against 10 men for the majority of last week's first leg, they sloppily conceded an injury-time equaliser.

The genesis of that goal provided a stern warning ahead of the decider. It came from a cross into the box, a method of attack that plays to the strengths of the physically imposing Bosnian side. Sometimes, the lack of width in Richmond leaves teams with little option, but to go direct. Tonight's opponents won't mind too much and, in training this week, the Saints' rearguard have been preparing to deal with an aerial bombardment.

Scoreless

Christy Fagan's away goal means that a scoreless draw would do. However, the ex-Manchester United youth, who subsequently spent time in Spain with Glenn Hoddle's academy, believes that a cagey approach would invite trouble.

"We can't sit back and play for a clean sheet to get through," says the striker. "You can sit off and give teams too much respect. They have some very good players who can hurt you, so we knew last week we had to get on top of them and let them worry about our game rather than us worrying about them.

"It helped us to start the game well. All of us were disgusted afterwards. even though everyone will say that 1-1 away from home in Europe is a good result, it didn't feel that way after the game."

Straight-talking Fagan acknowledges that last Friday's draw for the next round gave the group added motivation. In 2008, the Saints took on German opposition in the form of Hertha Berlin, a fixture that put Keith Fahey in the shop window. Now, they have an opportunity to rub shoulders with a similar calibre of players in a tie which would also earn substantial revenue for the club.

"Everyone wants to play in that and you can't block it out," Fagan says. "It's a massive incentive, but we're trying not to jump the gun and think about things. We want to get the job done here and, if we do, we get an unbelievable tie."

Manager Liam Buckley reckons the Bosnians were perhaps guilty of underestimating the Saints seven days ago. By his own admission, Pat's didn't play too well in moving past Icelandic side IBV in the first round and that might have fooled Brijeg into thinking it would be easy.

Although the Bosnians are without key defender Mladen Jurcevic after his poorly executed hatchet job on Fagan in the initial meeting, skipper Dalibor Silic is back from suspension.

"We were gutted last week," says Buckley. "It felt like a loss. And a week on, they'll be fitter (Brijeg are only in pre-season) and I think they'll understand now that we're not that bad.

"I can see them going gung-ho to get a result. We won't go gung-ho, but, equally, we won't go out defending. I'm expecting a humdinger."

His employers will settle for less entertainment if the bottom line is another successful night by the banks of the Camac.

Irish Independent

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