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Historic night as Bohemians beat PAOK to continue brilliant European run

Ali Coote scored twice to secure a first-leg victory over PAOK from Greece.

Ali Coote celebrates scoring a goal.
Ali Coote celebrates scoring a goal.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Bohemians 2

PAOK 1

BOHEMIANS DIDN’T WIN this 3-0.

So, 2-1 will just have to do instead.

This was an incredible, historic, and inspiring night at Aviva Stadium.

It might not have ended with another three goals scored and a clean sheet – like Bohs’ two previous legs here in Europa Conference League qualifying – but this was a result, and performance, that surely must rank among the greatest for League of Ireland clubs in European action.

Ali Coote’s two goals secured a first-leg victory over PAOK from Greece, a name that might not carry great allure, yet are a club of immense pedigree having reached the group stages of the Europa League in eight of the last 11 seasons.

ali-coote-celebrates-scoring-his-second-goal-with-ciaran-kelly Ali Coote celebrates scoring his second goal with Ciaran Kelly. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

They are ranked 77th by UEFA and, to put that in context, the five clubs immediately below them are Spanish sides Granada, Real Sociedad, Espanyol, Real Betis and Athletic Bilbao.

The five above? West Ham, Southampton, Everton, Burnley and Wolves. But they are not the names that matter on a night like this.

The ones that should be celebrated and cherished and etched in lore are James Talbot and Ciaran Kelly and Keith Buckley and Dawson Devoy and Ross Tierney and Georgie Kelly. And of course goal hero Coote.

It seems almost wrong to leave any out so let’s finish the job: Andy Lyons, Rob Cornwall, Anto Breslin, Liam Burt. To a man they were superb, so too the subs that helped seal the deal: James Finnerty, Conor Levingston, Keith Ward, Tyreke Wilson.

Composed, confident and a credit to football in this country.

And then there is the manager, Keith Long, who has diligently assembled yet another special group of players who don’t seem to understand supposed limitations.

You cannot feel anything but joy and pride with a display like this.

ciaran-kelly-celebrates-ali-cootes-second-goal Ciaran Kelly celebrates after Bohemians scored their second goal. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Yes, they were fortunate that PAOK goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis seemed to have Dairygold on his gloves when the crucial second Bohs goal flew through his palms from long range, but there was nothing jammy about this win.

Long said they would have to up their performance levels having comfortably seen of Stjarnan and F91 Dudelange. They reached a place not seen by the Dalymount Park club and, yet, they know the job is only half done.

The second leg, with a one goal advantage after Nelson Oliveria’s 77th-minute header, offers a chance to scale a peak they might not have felt credible until tonight.

They know what is possible now.

And yet this did not start like a night that would be remembered so fondly.

PAOK looked fresh and sharp in the opening exchanges and should have been a goal up in the third minute. After Talbot pushed Andrija Zivokovic’s firm shot back into the middle of the box, Nelson Oliveria followed up from close range by blasting over the bar.

The former Portugal international, a member of their Euro 2012 squad, kicked the post in frustration at a chance a striker of his calibre really should have put away.

stefan-schwab-and-georgie-kelly Stefan Schwab and Georgie Kelly. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

In the moments that followed, the nerves were clear in the Bohemians players. It took time for them to come to terms with the challenge and, fortunately for the, PAOK didn’t have the killer instinct to punish their reticence.

Such shyness in adversity is not a trait that Bohemians fans will recognise in this team. Slowly, Bohs found their feet.

Tierney sparked them into life as an attacking force with some neat touches and turns, driving towards goal after spinning his marker in the 17th minute. He shaped to curl an effort into the top corner but instead squared for striker Kelly who was dispossessed on the edge of the box at the crucial moment.

But it was an indication of PAOK’s fallibility.

Three minutes later came a reminder of the danger they posed in the final third when Oliveria raced towards Talbot only for the covering Ciaran Kelly, excellent and commanding all night, to ease the forward off the ball.

Then came the opener, a goal that felt like it was celebrated by a full house and seemed to release even more of Bohs’ inhibitions.

Georgie Kelly was too strong for Fernando Varela when he latched on to Lyons’ ball into the channel. The striker took things in his stride and headed into the box. With four goals in this Euro campaign already some may have expected him to take the shot on.

Instead, he waited for support and teed up Coote who burst a gut to join in the attack and slid in to prod the ball home from close range with a pathetic attempt at a clearance from covering right full Rodrigo Soares who dangled a leg like he was trying to retrieve a Cup Champion ball from under a car.

bohemians-fans-celebrate-during-the-game Bohemians fans celebrate during the game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The goal came in the 23rd minute and it was Bohs who stayed on top for the remainder of the half.

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When Coote smashed in the second seven minutes after the re-start, things began to take on a more seminal feeling.

In the press box, first-team coach Derek ‘Dester’ Pender embraced Philly McMahon, the former Dublin GAA star now assisting with performance coaching, with a double high five. They embraced and seemed delighted that a training ground routine seemed to come off from the short corner.

Tierney occupied space on the edge before darting into the box as a decoy, this opened the space for Coote to receive the corner from Breslin and the midfielder tried his luck from 25 yards. It was in.

Both sides emptied the bench between that point and the end. PAOK needed something to take back to Greece, Bohs hoping to have a two-goal advantage.

The class of Oliveria eventually told with his delicate header to half the deficit but there was no great push to score a second.

Talbot stood firm with two fine saves at his near post, first from Oliveria, the second from Diego Biseswar in added, but they were not to be denied.

The return in Greece next week could be a tragedy for the hosts if Bohs continue like this.

Bohemians: James Talbot; Andy Lyons, Rob Cornwall (James Finnerty 82), Ciaran Kelly, Anto Breslin; Ali Coote (Tyreke Wilson 88), Keith Buckley (c), Dawson Devoy (Conor Levingston 76), Liam Burt (Keith Ward 88); Ross Tierney; Georgie Kelly.

Substitutes: Enda Minogue, Stephen McGuinness, Rory Feely, Stephen Mallon, James Finnerty, Jamie Mullins, Aaron Doran, Sean Grehan, Robert Mahon.

Booked: Breslin 66, Talbot 70

PAOK: Alexandros Paschalakis; Rodrigo Soares, Fernando Varela, Giannis Michailids, Vieirinha (c); Stefan Schwab, Anderson Esti; Andrija Zivkovic, Shinji Kagawa, Omar El Kaddouri; Nélson Oliveira.

Substitutes: Zivko Zivkovic, Enea Mihaj, Karol Swiderski, Thomas Murg, Christos Tzolis, Lucas Taylor Maia Reis, Adrian Pereira, Eleftherios Lyratzis, Diego Biseswar, Jasmin Kurtic, Theochrais Tsiggaras, Georgios Koutsias.

Booked: Nelson Oliveria 62

Referee: Antti Munukka (FIN).

About the author:

David Sneyd  / Reports from Aviva Stadium

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