Fagan's early strike gives St Patrick's the edge for home tie

 

EUROPA LEAGUE SECOND QUALIFYING ROUND, FIRST LEG Široki Brijeg 1 St Patrick's Athletic 1:DESPITE the concession of a stoppage time equaliser, St Patrick’s Athletic can travel home today justifiably confident of having given themselves every chance of making the third round of the Europa League.

With Romanian referee István Kovács’ watch into the third minute of added time, veteran Brazilian striker Wagner headed home a deep cross from Mateo Bertosa to give Široki Brijeg a scarcely deserved draw.

Christy Fagan’s early goal had looked more than enough to give St Patrick’s victory as Liam Buckley’s side never wilted in the 27 degree heat.

St Patrick’s keeper Brendan Clarke, one of the heroes of their display away to IBV in the first round, made an early save from Sandro Bloudek before the visitors’ positive start was rewarded with a vital away goal on 12 minutes.

The goal should have come a minute earlier but for John Russell’s weak penalty, after Široki Brijeg captain Verdan Jese handled a Seán O’Connor cross, being saved down to his right by Luka Bilobrik.

But Russell promptly played his part in the lead goal. Fagan, who scored the winner in the first leg against IBV, made a telling return to the side, winning the ball near the halfway line to surge forward.

He fed Russell whose shot was parried by Bilobrik. Fagan, with clinical striker’s instinct, followed up to drill the ball home.

St Patrick’s skipper Conor Kenna was relieved five minutes later when he lost possession to give Bloudek another sniff of goal. But the striker put his effort wide.

Bloudek was proving Široki Brijeg’s chief threat and he just failed to get enough purchase on a cross on the half hour which went past a post.

It then got better for St Patrick’s three minutes before the break when home defender Mladen Jurcevic, booked for a handball on seven minutes, received a second yellow for a rash challenge on Fagan and was sent off.

St Patrick’s remained comfortable into the second half and Chris Forrester curled a left-foot shot against a post. Substitute Darren Meenan had a late chance to all but put the tie to bed, but the winger put his 82nd minute lob wide. The draw for the third round takes place in Nyon, Switzerland at lunchtime today.

NK ŠIROKI BRIJEG: Bilobrik; Jurcevic, D Dzidic, Jese, Bertosa; Zlomislic (Baiano, 67 mins.), Serdarusic (I. Dzidic, h/t); Coric, Wagner, Bloudek; Roskam (Kordic, 55 mins.).

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Clarke; O’Brien, Kenna, Browne, Bermingham; Russell, Chambers, Bolger; Forrester (J Kelly, 86 mins.), Fagan, O’Connor (Meenan, 75 mins.).

Referee: István Kovács(Romania).

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