The League of Ireland was facing the European elimination of all their teams before the calendar had even turned to August but St. Patrick’s Athletic 2-1 second leg win ensures that European football will continue for a while longer at least.
A first half goal from John Russell along with an extra time winner from Christy Fagan saw the Saints eliminate Bosnian side NK Siroki Brijeg 3-2 on aggregate in a pulsating Richmond Park on Thursday evening.
Pat’s had progressed to this second qualifying round when they did what Bohemians couldn’t do and that was beat Icelandic opposition. Earlier in the week, Shamrock Rovers suffered an embarrassing early exit from the Champions League and while Pat’s game was being played Sligo Rovers were eliminated from the Europa League. However, Pat’s continued with their fine European pedigree to keep their 11 match unbeaten record at Richmond Park intact to move into the next round where they will face Hannover.
Like in the previous tie, the Saints needed to go into extra time to get the decisive goal. Their late goal this time was just rewards for Pat’s who had led the first leg in Bosnia 1-0 deep in injury time before they conceded a cruel equaliser. This time around it was Christy Fagan who was the goal scoring hero in extra time. He was on hand to finish from close range after 105 minutes when he got on the end of a Conor Kenna knock down to spark wild scenes of celebration in Inchicore.
The game had begun with both sides looking to get forward in a highly entertaining and open match that saw 35 attempts on goal. The visitors deployed Damir Zlomislic and Brazilian Wagner, who scored the late first leg goal for the Bosnian side, in front of their back four to provide protection. However, NK Siroki Brijeg conceded a number of free kicks around their own box that St. Pat’s were constantly looking to exploit through the dead ball expertise of Sean O’Connor and James Chambers.
The first real chance of the game fell to the away team as Dino Coric got down the right wing to cross for Kresimir Kordic. His deft lay off to Ricardo Baiano allowed the Brazilian-born Bosnian international to get a shot away. He really should have done better with his shot when facing the Pat’s goal unchallenged from just outside the area.
The visiting goalkeeper was certainly the busier of the two net minders but he wasn’t inspiring a lot of confidence. On 10 minutes Luka Bilobrk fumbled an O’Connor shot conceding a corner. Six minutes later he had to scramble to hang onto a deep Ger O’Brien cross when the full back got forward.
The Bosnians themselves pushed on when they could as they sought a crucial away goal. Dalibor Silic linked up with Baiano but captain Silic had his shot drift well wide of Brendan Clarke’s goal. A slip by Chambers allowed Damir Zlomislic to forge deep into Pat’s territory. He moved the ball quickly through to Kordic and on to Bloudek but Ian Bermingham was in a good position to block Bloudek’s 20 minute shot.
Pat’s had a great chance to go in front on 26 minutes when Chris Forrester won a free kick off Bloudek. Chambers swung the ball into the box but Greg Bolger’s header was saved by Bilobrk. When the central midfielder got another free kick minutes later, this time it was Forrester on the end forcing Bilobrk to save.
Six minutes before half time, the home side took the lead. The goal came from a deep O'Connor cross that the 'keeper came for and missed. The ball came to Forrester at the back post who delivered it back across the six yard box. Christy Fagan really should have scored but the ball ran on for John Russell and he poked it home to make it 1-0 on the night. The lead was nearly doubled two minutes before the break when O’Connor forced another save from Bilobrk.
Brendan Clarke made his first real save of the night three minutes into the second half as he tipped over Kordic’s shot after Mateo Bertosa was allowed way to much room in front of the Pat’s box. Bolger and then Wagner traded shots that failed to test either keeper before O’Connor, who was providing support to Fagan up front, had his shot saved by Bilobrk diving full length.
On 65 minutes, NK Siroki Brijeg conjured up an equaliser after a fine footballing move. It was built from the back with Zlomislic playing a superb 40 yard cross field pass to Wagner. The Brazilian cut inside and his shot flashed wide of the Pat’s post taking a deflection along the way. Silic swung in the corner and Ivica Dzidic powered a header by Clarke from close range to make it 2-2 on aggregate.
Neither side could find a winner in normal time with a diving header from Bolger off a Forrester cross in injury time, the closest either team went to breaking the deadlock. In injury time, first Forrester and then Fagan went close before the striker got the winner on the stroke of half time in extra time. Fagan’s shirt off celebration saw him go in the German referee’s book.
There were some scary moments for the Saints as the game headed towards 120 minutes, none more so than when Ger O’Brien was called on to put in a last gasp tackle on Mateo Roskam as he ran clean in on Clarke in goal. That tackle helped Pat’s to their fifth consecutive European win in Richmond Park and put them into the third qualifying round. They will look to bring that form into the first leg of the tie against Hannover 96, a match that will be played at Tallaght Stadium next week.
St Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien, Kenny Browne, Conor Kenna, Ian Bermingham; Chris Forrester (Jake Kelly, 105), Greg Bolger, James Chambers, John Russell, Sean O’Connor (Darren Meenan, 89); Christy Fagan (Anto Flood, 111).
Subs not used: Barry Murphy, Pat Flynn, Aidan Price, Jake Carroll.
Bookings: Kenna (58), Fagan (105), Bolger (121).
NK Siroki Brijeg: Luka Bilobrk; Dino Coric, Ivica Dzidic (Damir Dzidic, 85), Vedran Jese, Mateo Bertosa; Wagner, Damir Zlomislic; Sandro Bloudek (Mateo Roskam, 63), Ricardo Baiano (Jure Ivankovic, 85), Dalibor Silic; Kresimir Kordic.
Subs not used: Nikola Maric, Mario Ljubic, Danijel Kozul, Ante Serdarusic.
Bookings: Jese (42), Silic (51), Bertosa (87), Ivankovic (90+2).
Referee: Deniz Aytekin (Germany).
Extratime Man of the Match: Christy Fagan.
Macdara made his debut as a football supporter in Lansdowne Road watching Ireland defeat Luxembourg. He still believes one day he will see his club Shamrock Rovers win an FAI Cup. You can follow Macdara on twitter <a href="http://www.twitter.com/macdarabueller">@macdarabueller</a>