Bohemians' nerve holds firm

 

He talks the talk, we all knew that long before last night's UEFA Cup qualifying round leg got under way at Tolka Park. By 9.40, though, Roddy Collins' players had shown that they could do the walking for him. Even standing there in front of the dugout watching as his side made it into today's draw for the first round proper of the competition, the Bohemians manager must have been sweating as much as any of them.

It won't matter much to Collins or anybody else in the Bohemians camp now, of course, but it was skin-of-the-teeth stuff for most of the 90 minutes. Down to 10 men after Darren O'Keeffe's sending off late in the first half, leading on away goals from the time Dave Morrison beat his own goalkeeper just over halfway through the second period, the five minutes of injury time seemed to last an eternity.

"I think you have to give all of the credit to the players," said Collins when it was finally all over. "It's their night because they kept their nerve even in the second half when they were going out there 10 against 11. We knew that they had to score two and that was crucial, it was why we didn't panic when they scored their goal."

In a final swipe at his opposite number, Ebbe Skovdahl, with whom there was a brief ruck at the end, the Dubliner added that by leaving three at the back when only Molloy remained up front "they paid us too much respect".

Collins knew, however, that the tie had been won two weeks ago, a fact Skovdahl must be only too keenly aware of as he leaves Dublin this morning. Forced to chase the game after conceding two away goals, the Dane was first let down by his side's performance in the last third of the pitch and then frustrated by a remarkably gutsy second-half Bohemians display.

Aberdeen came armed with two key weapons: a team with bags full of determination on the pitch and a small army of demented fans off it. The latter made clear their love of their Dons and their hatred of Collins clear from the start. However, Aberdeen simply failed to make much of their general superiority with only Tunisian striker Hicham Zerouali doing much to test Wayne Russell in the opening period. By the end Aberdeen did manage to get 10 shots on target - 10 more than their hosts - but only a couple required serious attention by the home side's goalkeeper.

Russell had a fine night, though, and little more could have been asked of most of those in front of him but there was still plenty to take the Bohemians manager's mind off the taunts of the visiting fans behind him. His decision to play Darren O'Keeffe in an unfamiliar striking role alongside Molloy was looking like a poor call while right-back Rob Bowman was having a nightmare.

Late in the half Collins attempted to address both problems by switching O'Keeffe to the right side of defence but the former Drogheda United player, who makes a habit of getting sent off, was then booked twice in just five minutes leaving his manager with an even greater headache.

Collins then opted to abandon any pretence that Bohemians could take the game to a side that were clearly dominant in every department except, over the two legs, the one that counted most. Tony O'Connor arrived to steady things down the right and Molloy was left to busy himself as best he could in what was now a 5-3-1 formation.

The switch meant an even greater concession of ground and a good deal more for Russell to worry about around his area. For all that, though, Aberdeen remained poor at carving out much by way of decent chances in such a densely populated territory and it took Morrison's blunder 21 minutes from time to raise the visiting side's.

From then on, though, it was the home side whose collective nerve held up better. Russell, when it was required, made a superb injury-time stop from Kevin Rutkiewicz, Hunt hustled and harried in the centre and Molloy, during those final, anxious minutes, worked tirelessly to relieve the pressure on those behind him. There were a couple of desperate scrambles and even one lunging block of a goalbound shot but the locals clung on to earn a stab at what could well be much larger fry in the next round.

BOHEMIANS: Russell; Bowman (O'Connor, half-time), Maher, Hill, Webb; Morrison, Caffrey, Hunt, Dempsey; Molloy, O'Keeffe.ABERDEEN: Esson; Rowson, McGuire, Whyte (Belabed, 90 mins), McNaughton; Guntveit, Bernard (Mackie, 55 mins), Young, Dow (Rutkiewicz, 83 mins); Zerouali, Winters. Referee: Leif Sundell (Sweden)