Evan Treacy/INPHO Joseph Anang has impressed since joining St Pat's on loan.

Praise for West Ham youngster starring at Pat's ahead of another big European night for Irish football

Joseph Anang was key as the Irish side overcame Mura on penalties in the last round.

ONE OF the important factors behind St Patrick’s Athletic’s success in recent times has been their astute use of the English loan market.

Last season, Vítězslav Jaroš and Alfie Lewis were brought to the club from Liverpool and West Ham respectively, quickly establishing themselves as key players amid a campaign that saw the Saints lift the FAI Cup and finish second in the Premier Division.

This year, Joseph Anang and Adam O’Reilly have been signed on temporary deals from West Ham and Preston respectively, and have looked similarly impressive.

Both players started the two matches in the previous round against FC Mura — a Slovenian outfit perhaps best known for causing a major upset and beating an Antonio Conte-managed Tottenham side featuring Harry Kane in the Europa Conference League group stages last year.

Anang, in particular, emerged as the hero of the tie, especially in the second leg, as he made a number of crucial saves to keep the Irish side’s hopes alive before they ultimately prevailed on penalties.

The 22-year-old goalkeeper, who was born in Ghana and has represented England at underage level, will likely be key again if Pat’s are to upset the odds and overcome CSKA Sofia.

“He has been [excellent] from the start of the season,” Clancy told reporters in the pre-match press conference. “Joe looks a bit unorthodox and clumsy the way he moves, but he’s not at all. He’s a very good ‘keeper, an excellent shot stopper, as we’ve seen against Mura last week.

“Also, his distribution with the ball at his feet is top, top level. Joe’s been outstanding all season and last week was probably the highlight performance in such a big game.

“I think the benefit of the loan system from the teams in the UK worked very well last year with Jaroš at Pat’s and it’s working as well with Joseph again this year. There are massive benefits from players to come over once you get the right ones and Joe will probably say himself that he’s a better ‘keeper now than he was when he came here because of the experience he’s getting in the League of Ireland.”

Pat’s are likely to face a hostile environment at the very least in Sofia this evening. And unfortunately, Bulgarian football has acquired a reputation for racism in recent times — in 2019, a Euros qualifier against England was brought to a halt twice due to racist abuse from the crowd. It was not the first time the national team has been embroiled in a racism-related controversy.

And earlier this year, former Newcastle and Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew quit as CSKA’s manager after the club’s fans aimed racist abuse at their own players.

“You’re hoping it’ll pass off without incident,” said Clancy. “You need to be brain-dead or knuckle-dragging to be talking about racism in this day and age. England had a problem out here before. If there’s an incident, it’ll be up to the officials to take appropriate action.”

The Saints boss adds that he expects a tough game against a side he suggests are at a similar level to their Bulgarian rivals Ludogorets, who dumped reigning Premier Division champions Shamrock Rovers out of the Champions League last week.

“Listen, they’ve got a lot of talent. You saw Ludogorets against Shamrock Rovers. CSKA have started the season with 10 points out of 12, the same as Ludogorets.

“They’ve got a good few internationals in their squad, a few Brazilians and other nationalities as well. They have a very talented team, a big physical team as well and three of their four goals in the second leg of the second round were from set-pieces. So we know that’s going to be a big part of our game, that we’re going to have to defend balls into the box.

“But, listen, we’re hoping we can also get ourselves in positions on the pitch where we can also hurt teams. If we do so, we can capitalise on those chances.”

After the highs of Slovenia, Pat’s experienced less than ideal preparation for their upcoming European fixtures.

They were brought down to earth amid a surprise 3-2 loss at home to First Division side Waterford, as their FAI Cup defence ended at the first hurdle.

“We knew looking back, you see Bohs struggled last year after they played in Europe, the great run they went on, and you saw Sligo then this season, they fell out of the cup the same as us after a big performance on Thursday night.

“And even in the previous round where they went through against Bala, they dropped points at home to UCD and lost a game, and I think Shamrock Rovers struggled at home to Drogheda after one of their games in Europe as well.

“So it was something that we spoke about and it was really, really disappointing that we had the first-half performance that we did against Waterford and we didn’t capitalise on the chances we had in the second half to go through.

“But we had to get over that disappointment quickly, preparing for this tie and it’s just been maintenance work really, the last few days.”

Next week’s return encounter has been confirmed for Tallaght, while tonight’s first leg will take place at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, which has a capacity of just over 40,000.

Billy King says the Pat’s players will not be intimidated by the fervent atmosphere that awaits them.

“There are a lot of young boys and stuff but these are the nights you play football for.

“If there are atmospheres like that in Europe, that’s why you want to play in Europe, for these types of nights and I think that will drive the boys on as we’ve shown in the past as well when we’ve played in hostile atmospheres.

“Hopefully we can use that to our advantage and get a decent result.”

Tonight’s Europa Conference League first leg between CSKA Sofia and St Patrick’s Athletic will be live on the RTÉ News Channel and RTÉ Player. Kick-off is 6pm Irish time.

Viking FK v Sligo (6pm) and Shamrock Rovers v KF Shkupi (8pm) are both available to purchase on LOITV.

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