St Patrick’s Athletic fell victim to an early sucker punch against Bundesliga opponents Hannover 96 at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night, and two more second half goals led to a 3-0 defeat that their impressive performance did not deserve.
Just six minutes had elapsed when Leon Andreasen picked up a lay-off from Ya Konan and, with plenty of space to move in, drilled a shot past Brendan Clarke and inside his right hand post.
It was a bitter blow for St Pats in a half that otherwise offered little in the way of goalmouth activity. As was to be expected, Hannover passed the ball swiftly and accurately, adding some rapid movement off the ball for good measure. In Jan Schlaudraff they possessed a forward who dropped deep and was willing to forage across the width of midfield, as well as off the shoulder of striker Ya Konan. But the qualities on show did not overwhelm Liam Buckley’s side.
From the beginning St Pats were committed to the kind of passing game that demands patience and subtlety, and once they had found their feet they did not disappoint. James Chambers anchored central midfield and fought diligently for the right to dictate the pace and direction of play.
Chief beneficiaries were John Russell and Chris Forrester who were fed regular possession and gradually grew in confidence. Russell almost split the defence on 18 minutes as Forrester raced through on a diagonal run, but a stretching Hannover leg cut out the pass.
Hannover occasionally threatened on the break but it was the home side who were the next to threaten when Sean O’Connor spun a delightful, curling shot just wide of Ron Zieler’s goal on the half hour mark. But, as if to remind them of the concentration levels demanded at this level, the Germans broke one minute later with lightening speed. Huszti exploded down the left wing before sliping a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Andreasen. His cross was whacked clear by Forrester before Ya Konan could take advantage.
Pats made two more errors in the final five minutes of the half, Conor Kenna passing a simple ball into no man’s land that Lars Stindl picked up before passing to Ya Konan. The striker failed to make anything of the opportunity and one minute later Pinto fired wastefully high when intercepting a loose pass by Forrester.
The sense at half time was that Pats lacked only a few degrees of self confidence, having competed on level terms with their more illustrious opponents for most of the opening period. And from the first moments of the second half it was clear that they were determined to be more assertive.
Three minutes after the restart Forrester played a ball down the right that forced Eggimann to concede a corner, from which Fagan might have done better than see his effort deflected away. Chambers then whipped a free kick to the back post that Andreasen cleared more by luck than judgement. Forrester then ran at the full back Pander, executing a series of step-overs that demonstrated Pat’s swelling confidence.
Just before the hour Hannover introduced Konstantin Rausch in an effort to reignite their own attacking challenge and four minutes later he ought to have added a second goal, side-footing narrowly wide having been set up by Schlaudraff. But it was not an error they would be made to regret, and five minutes later Hannover scored a second in the tamest of circumstances.
Greg Bolger took down Andreasen as he broke from central midfield and, from fully 35 yards, Christian Pander belted home the free kick, somehow sneaking it past Clarke and inside his left hand post.
Christy Fagan almost pulled one back with 15 minutes remaining, bursting through on the left and advancing on goal before sending his low drive inches beyond Zieler’s far post. But it was Hannover who would score next, all but extinguishing Pats’ interest in the competition, when Ya Konan shot home from close range after Rausch’s effort had been parried into his path.
Pats fought on, Fagan almost beating Zieler with a deflected effort that so nearly looped under the Hannover crossbar on 82 minutes. But there was to be no consolation. Three goals down and with an away leg to play, St Pats will be realistic enough to know that they are on their way out of the Europa League, but they will also know that, however emphatic it may look on paper, this was a result that did not reflect the quality of their performance.
St Patrick’s Ath: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien, Conor Kenna, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham; Chris Forrester (Jake Carroll 87), John Russell, James Chambers, Greg Bolger (Anto Flood 83), Sean O’Connor (Darren Meenan 79); Christy Fagan.
Subs not used: Barry Murphy, Aidan Price, Pat Flynn, Jake Kelly.
Bookings: Russell (90+2).
Hannover 96: Ron Zieler; Steve Cherundolo, Karim Haggui, Mario Eggimann, Christian Pander; Lars Stindl, Leon Andreasen (Manuel Schmiedebach 72), Sergio Pinto, Szabolcs Huszti (Konstantin Rausch 57); Jan Schlaudraff (Mohammed Abdellaoue 79), Didier Ya Konan.
Subs not used: Markus Miller, Christian Schulz, Sofian Chahed, Artur Sobiech.
Bookings: Stindl (63).
Referee: Tamas Bognar (Hungary).
Extratime Man of the Match: Jan Schlaudraff (Hannover 96).