Dave Donnelly reports from Richmond Park
St Patrick’s Athletic saw their Europa League ambitions go up in smoke on Thursday as they suffered a 2-0 defeat at home to IFK Norrkoping.
Simon Thern’s strike early in the second half and an unfortunate own goal from Lee Desmond five minutes from time proved the undoing of Harry Kenny’s side.
The Saints were second-best for much of the encounter and coughed up a worrying number of chances in a second half that could have yielded more for the Swedes.
They could justifiably point to the failure of referee Lionel Tschudi to award a penalty, and perhaps a red card, for a clear foul on Gary Shaw by Alexander Fransson after only 13 minutes.
Had a different decision been made (and Fransson was finally booked late on for the latest in a series of professional fouls by the visitors) the game could have panned out differently.
The breaks weren’t on Pats’ side, however, a point that was summed up by the second goal as Kasper Larsen’s header rebounded wickedly off Desmond and past Brendan Clarke.
Clarke had made a number of top-class saves in either half to deny Jordan Larsson, the son of Celtic great Henrik, and Montenegrin substitute Sead Haksabanovic, before IFK got their second.
The Athletic began the game with purpose, content to sit back and allow the Swedish midfield four to play the ball in the middle and hit them quickly on the flanks.
A good press from Conor Clifford in midfield yielded the game’s first talking point as, after making the mistake to let Shaw though, Fransson cut across the striker’s path to make the foul.
Incredibly, referee Tschudi, having taken his time to assess the situation, cross his hands to indicate that no foul had occurred, much to the amazement of the home crowd.
Norrkoping heeded their slice of good fortune and gradually found a foothold in the game, using their extra man in midfield to pick holes while the centre-halves bombed forward judiciously.
One such foray saw Filip Dagerstahl thread the ball through for Larsson and, after nicking the ball past Kevin Toner, he saw his shot from point-blank range excellently smothered by Clarke.
Drennan volleyed across the face of goal following a cleverly-worked free kick from Jamie Lennon as either side looked as likely to find a breakthrough.
Pats got a let-off eight minutes before the break when Thern showed Toner a clean set of heels and pulled back for the waiting Larsson, but the striker sliced wide with the net at his mercy.
The goal, when it arrived, came about as the result of Ciaran Kelly’s mistake and the visitors made hay with the defence momentarily out of position.
Fransson found Larsson and he in turn found Thern, who had time to steady himself, dodge the arriving defenders and squeeze his shot into the bottom corner.
Still Pats found holes and Clifford played in Bermingham in space on the left and his early shot looked to have found the bottom corner only for Isak Petterson to get a fingertip and turn it wide.
Within seconds, Norrkoping had turned defence into attack and Larsson very nearly found the killer second but his left-footed shot clipped the outside the post and bounced wide.
The visitors piled on the pressure in an attempt to close out the tie and Kelly made amends with two vital interventions as the Saints opened up and left more space in behind.
Clarke pulled off another brilliant save to turn Haksabanovic’s deflected shot wide, and another lucky deflection led to Holmberg again being denied by the stopper.
From Thern’s resulting corner, however, Larsen’s header cannoned off Desmond and into the net as the Saints keeper’s heroics ultimately counted for nothing.
There was still time for Clarke to save from Holmberg, and Haksanabovic’s follow-up was blocked, before Drennan was denied by another fine Pettersen save in injury time.
St. Patrick's Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ian Bermingham, Lee Desmond, Ciaran Kelly, Simon Madden, Kevin Toner; Conor Clifford (Jake Walker 83), Cian Coleman (Rhys McCabe 64), Jamie Lennon; Michael Drennan, Gary Shaw (Dean Clarke 64).
Subs not used: Chris Forrester, Darragh Markey, Barry Murphy, David Webster.
Booked: Jamie Lennon (13).
Norrkoping: Isak Petterson; Rasmus Lauritsen, Kasper Larsen, Filip Dagerstal; Lars Gerson , Alexander Fransson, Simon Skrabb (Egzon Binaku 86), Gudmundur Thorarinsson (Sead Haksabanovic 75); Christoffer Nyman (Kalle Holmberg 70), Jordan Larsson, Simon Thern.
Subs not used: David Mitov Nilsson, Kalle Holmberg, Henrik Castegren, Andreas Blomqvist, Ian Smith.
Booked: Kasper Larsen (24), Alexander Fransson (63).
Referee: Lionel Tschudi (Switzerland).
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: Jordan Larsson (Norrkoping).