Thursday 26 April 2018

Windfall awaits if Saint Patrick's book Celtic date

Christy Fagan, St Patrick's Athletic, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal in the UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying Round First leg, against Legia Warszawa. Picture credit: Lukasz Grochala / SPORTSFILE
Christy Fagan, St Patrick's Athletic, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal in the UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying Round First leg, against Legia Warszawa. Picture credit: Lukasz Grochala / SPORTSFILE

Séan Ryan

AFTER drawing a blank in European competition in 2013, League of Ireland clubs are enjoying some heady nights in Champions and Europa League qualifiers this year

Pride of place goes to St Patrick’s Athletic, our standard-bearers in the Champions League. They were minutes from a famous away victory over Poland’s champions, Legia Warsaw, but the 1-1 result still leaves them in position to advance after Wednesday’s second leg at Tallaght Stadium.

Adding interest to this tie is the reward for the winners, who will host Celtic in the first leg of the third qualifying round. With €330,000 already secured from their participation so far, a visit from Celtic would represent a huge windfall.

As in previous years, St Pat’s are at a disadvantage as they had to move the Legia tie from their own ground to Tallaght, for safety and security reasons, as a large contingent from Poland is expected to attend.

This is the third time Pat’s have had to move a European fixture from the tight confines of their Inchicore pitch, and so far it hasn’t worked to their advantage. They say there’s a first time for everything, and hopefully this will be the case on Wednesday.

Before last Thursday night’s Europa League qualifiers, the consensus was that, if there was to be an Irish win, it would most likely come from Dundalk or Derry City, as it was felt that Rosenborg’s proud European tradition would prove too strong for Sligo Rovers.

When news came through at Oriel Park that Sligo Rovers had taken the lead in Trondheim, it was greeted with a round of applause. That Sligo added to that lead and then held on for an historic 2-1 win was the shock of the night, a fact even noted by UEFA on their website.

Sligo hadn’t looked all that convincing when accounting for Banga of Lithuania in the previous round, but they certainly brought their game to a higher level for Rosenborg. It’s only half-time, of course, but the Showgrounds should be heaving on Thursday as the Bit o’Red attempt to book their place in the next round against Turkish opposition.

This is new territory for Sligo and their new manager John Coleman. Their game plan worked in Norway but, as Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny pointed out after his team’s 2-0 defeat by Hajduk Split in Oriel, “the away tie is not always more difficult than the home tie. Sligo and Pat’s will realise the risk involved in attacking at home”.

Getting the balance right between attacking and defending is what is important. Sligo can’t afford to defend too deeply and hand the initiative to Rosenborg, and they must be as clinical in their finishing at home as they were in Norway.

Kenny reflected that, in the previous round against Jeunesse Esch, his team were clinical in taking their chances, “but the chances we had tonight were easier, we didn’t take them, and that’s the disappointing part”.

He set his team up to have a go, and remarked: “Some players were excellent and others were below par. Hajduk broke with a lot of pace, especially down the right side, but for them to score from two bread-and-butter crosses was disappointing from my point of view.”

Hajduk’s second goal was the real killer as it came against the run of play, but Kenny is hopeful. “We could get punished in Split or we could get a good result. We’re not throwing in the towel.” Hajduk coach Igor Tudor, while praising Dundalk, insisted his side’s quality decided the game.

“Their right-back (Sean Gannon) is a good player, and Number 17 (Richie Towell). I like their strength, they won lots of duels with our players.”

It was hard to argue with that, other than to note that they had quality in front of goal on a night when Pat Hoban’s touch let him down. For him, it was a valuable learning experience, as Derry City’s 1-0 defeat at home to Shakhytor Soligorsk (Belarus) was for Shane McEleney, whose backpass resulted in the decisive goal.

Derry had goalkeeper Ger Doherty to thank for keeping them in the game, and he will need to repeat that form if Derry are to get anything from Thursday’s second leg.

Sunday Indo Sport

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