No fairytale Turner's Cross farewell for Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor as Larnaca lead after first leg
CORK CITY 0 AEK LARNACA 1
THIS was not the Turner’s Cross farewell that Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor had planned.
Cork City’s first defeat of 2017 leaves them with a serious job to do in Cyprus with a scrappy goal from Larnaca’s Joan Truyols enough to give them an advantage to bring home.
Preston-bound Maguire and O’Connor will have to produce a Hollywood ending to turn things around after a frustrating night in front of a packed Turner’s Cross.
They were watched by future manager Alex Neil and the rest of his squad who are in Ireland on a training camp and Maguire impressed in overall play.
He was starved of service where it really mattered, however, as a visiting side with 306 international caps in their match-day squad showed their experience.
John Caulfield emptied his bench after Cork fell behind with 20 minutes remaining yet the problem with any hard-luck story is that the natives struggled to work Larnaca stopper Juan Pablo.
They have cut sides apart here throughout the season, including four against Levadia Tallinn last week, yet they were nowhere near as effective going forward against a superior rearguard.
There was some early encouragement for the 6,400 crowd. Maguire drew applause from Neil and football advisor Peter Ridsdale after one run and cross that sparked the hosts to life after a slightly worrying opening.
Goalkeeper Mark McNulty got his side out of trouble when French striker Thierry Florian was played into space but lacked conviction in a one-on-one situation.
If anything, that let-off focused the League of Ireland leaders and they began to impose themselves on the game as the first half progressed.
The confident Maguire fashioned an opportunity by simply poking the ball past a pair of physically imposing Larnaca defenders and outpacing them with his near-post attempt blocked.
But that was not the start of a siege with both sides effectively scoping each other out for the remainder of the half and reluctant to commit bodies. Free-kicks at either end were wasted with defences on top. It was typical first-leg fare, with the fact that Cork were playing into the wind a slight hindrance.
That should have been a help from the restart, in addition to the fact they were playing into their beloved Shed End. Cork were spirited with Caulfield manically pacing the sideline but while there was plenty of industry, there was a shortage of incision.
Larnaca seemed content enough with the situation, and what will hurt Caulfield is that the deadlock-breaker came against the run of play at that juncture.
He was preparing to bring on a second striker Achille Campion to support Maguire when black shirts broke and a cross to the far post was cleared off the line by Steven Beattie with an inquest taking place between the makeshift Cork defence shorn of Alan Bennett and long-term injury victim John Dunleavy.
They were disorganised from the subsequent corner with a shot blocked by O’Connor into the path of Spaniard Truyols – one of five in their starting side – who kept his cool to steer the ball into the bottom corner.
Cork’s ambitions of extending their unbeaten run to 27 games were fading with new signing Kieran Sadlier sprightly but frustrated on a number of occasions as the finicky French officials enraged the Turner’s Cross patrons with Larnaca seeking to run down the clock.
Right at the end, Cork found another gear and Maguire finally got sight of goal when he was released by Campion but his weaving run was thwarted by a last-ditch block and the series of corners that followed ricocheted around the area without ever falling to the right man.
Maguire and O’Connor embarked on a lap of honour at the end, but they will have a better goodbye in mind next Thursday. Larnaca’s jubilant celebrations suggested they knew the scale of their achievement.
Cork City – McNulty; Beattie, McCormack, Delaney, O’Connor; Bolger (Campion 75), Morrissey; Sheppard (Griffin 78), Buckley, Dooley (Sadlier 61); Maguire
AEK Larnaca – Pablo; Truyols, Mojsov, Catala, Antoniades; Larena (Rousias 90), Laban; Trickovski (Boljevic 83), Tomàs (Tete 76), Hevel; Florian.
ref – F Letexier (France)