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Joyous scenes for St Pat's after 'one of the best results' from an Irish club in Europe

Tim Clancy was delighted after Pat’s stunned CSKA in Sofia.

St. Patrick's Athletic's Serge Atakayi celebrates scoring the late goal to win the game with teammates in front of their travelling fans.
St. Patrick's Athletic's Serge Atakayi celebrates scoring the late goal to win the game with teammates in front of their travelling fans.
Image: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO

THERE HAVE been plenty of fantastic standalone performances from Irish sides in Europe in the past.

Shamrock Rovers’ 2011 2-1 win over Partizan Belgrade, Dundalk’s 3-0 victory against BATE Borisov in 2016, Cork City’s 1-1 draw versus Bayern Munich in 1991 and Athlone Town’s 0-0 draw with AC Milan in 1975 are a couple that spring to mind.

And now, St Patrick’s Athletic’s 1-0 first-leg success against CSKA Sofia last night can be added to the list.

But perhaps even more so than the result, it was the manner of the performance that made it so impressive.

The Saints largely restricted their Bulgarian opponents to half-chances and looked increasingly threatening in the second half, to the point that when Serge Atakayi’s late winner came, it felt thoroughly deserved. 

Afterwards, jubilant Pat’s boss Tim Clancy hailed the result as one of the best from an Irish team in Europe and paid tribute to his side.

“It was a very good defensive, and disciplined performance. We had a few bookings early in the game which I thought were very soft, we seemed to be getting penalised for every contact and getting booked for very little. The opposition were not really getting booked for any tackles or pushes.

“We defended resolutely and stuck to the game plan to frustrate them and limit them. How we dealt with crosses was excellent and still had a threat on the counter-attack. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve left back-passes short, so it was good tonight we were on the other end of it.”

He continued: “We’re having a season that’s very frustrating for everybody, the fans as well because some games are excellent, other games we’re a little bit off with consistency levels and I think that comes with the age profile of the squad.

“But the more games we’re playing, the more confident we’re getting and the more belief we’re getting as well.

“To be able to come out here and defend, and stick to the game plan the way we did and capitalise on a mistake to win the game, it’s a testament to them.

“So we just hope it gives them more confidence now, more belief going forward and we can start getting more consistency in our league form.”

Clancy himself deserves credit in particular for the astute decision to bring on Serge Atakayi in the 81st minute.

The 23-year-old attacker, who only joined the club from Finnish club Seinajoen Jalkapallokerho (SJK) last month, made a swift impact, showing impressive pace to latch on to Asen Donchev’s weak header before taking it past the goalkeeper and converting a simple finish into the empty net.

“The game was getting stretched. I think they were feeling the pressure from their home fans to go and get a winner themselves. At that stage, Billy King had put a lot of work in and Serge has that energy, that pace and the quality as well. We thought making that change at that moment in the game might have given us that opportunity and thankfully Serge got onto the end of a short back pass, went past the ‘keeper and got us the win.”

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It was down the other end, though, that Pat’s were most impressive. Dutch player Bradley de Nooijer was among CSKA’s biggest threats, but a diligent display from Shamrock Rovers loanee Barry Cotter limited his influence.

“The left-back is one of their stronger players, he’s very athletic and dynamic going forward and a lot of their stuff comes down that side of the pitch from himself and [Maurício] Garcez so it was an area we focused on and athletically Barry is very, very good. He showed tonight that when he’s at it and concentrated and playing to that level, he’s an exceptional player.

“I think the whole team, Joe Anang right through to Eoin Doyle and the lads that came on as well [impressed]. It was the performance that we had to have. There was nobody off their game at all at this level.

“Serge coming on, I’m delighted for him because he has the ability and physical attributes in regards to his pace. He was disappointed on Sunday because he gave a short backpass and they scored. Tonight it’s roles reversed and he feels on top of the world because he’s after getting one of the best results there has been from an Irish club in Europe, away to a team of the calibre of CSKA.”

Pat’s have consequently put themselves in a strong position ahead of Thursday’s second leg at Tallaght Stadium, but Clancy is well aware the job is only half done.

“Listen, I’d imagine they’ll be right at it next week. They’ve seen us up close, how we set up and the energy that we have in the team, and how hard it is to put balls in when you have Joe Redmond, Tom Grivosti and Harry Brockbank attacking the ball the way they did and defending the central area in the box. So we’re under no illusion in thinking it’s going to be easier next week, it will be harder than it was tonight and for us to get through is going to take a big effort from everyone.”

Tickets for the second leg in Tallaght next Thursday (kick-off: 7.45pm) are on sale now at StPatsFC.com and available online only.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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