Night to forget for Saints as Skonto march on in Europa League

Liam Buckley’s side threatened in first half before visitors put tie beyond reach

St Patrick’s Athletic 0 Skonto Riga 2 (Skonto win 4-1 on aggregate)

It doesn’t seem so long ago that St Patrick’s Athletic’s European record at Richmond Park seemed like a genuine cause for confidence at this time of year. After another defeat, though, it may be some time before any half-decent team fears travelling here to play them again.

This, to be fair, was no Legia Warsaw in Tallaght, but on genuinely home turf against a side that looked no better really than Liam Buckley’s side, the result seemed almost as bad in its way. The hosts enjoyed the better of things early and late on but always looked as though they might have an away goal in them.

After it arrived, 38 minutes in, Skonto simply kept their cool while the locals ultimately seemed to lose theirs in the face of some questionable refereeing decisions. The visitors’ second, just short of the hour mark, by which time they already looked like a side intent on simply seeing things out, may have exceeded even their ambitions on the night but it certainly made sure of the outcome.

“It’s disappointing,” said captain Ger O’Brien afterwards. “For long periods in the first half I thought we were going to get that first goal that would have made the tie really open, but then we switched off for a second, they got the ball in and scored.

“Their second completely knocked the stuffing out of us, I think that was a harsh decision but there’s no point in making excuses because I think, over two legs, we probably haven’t done enough to go through.”

Things might have different had Chris Forrester put the home side in front midway through the opening half when he cut in from the right, beat two defenders, then had his initial shot saved and his follow up headed away just short of the line by centre back Renars Rode.

Around him, at that stage, the home side was generally on top but their generally patient build-up play sometimes seemed to extend to a reluctance to put the ball into the danger area and when they did arrive, the Dubliners' final balls were repeatedly a disappointment. Christy Fagan certainly had little to work with and Forrester's close-range effort aside, Andrejs Pavlovs had little enough to do over the course of the first 45 minutes.

By then, Skonto had bagged that opener with the Latvians scoring somewhat against the run of play when Edgars Jermolajevs found Vladislavs Sorokins unmarked at the far post with a cross from the right and Brendan Clarke was pretty much helpless as the full back headed back across the cross the goal and beyond him into the corner.

That left the locals needing to score twice just to force extra time and when they returned from the break they gave grabbing a quick one a go with an early charge but the brief spell of pressure yielded nothing beyond a hurried Ian Bermingham shot over the bar.

The Skonto players irritated a fair few amongst the home support with their tendency to make the most of every bit of contact and when they won a penalty, apparently for a handball by Lee Desmond as he challenged Vladislavs Gutkovskis, the scale of the frustration in the stands was clear. After Arurs Karasausks put the spot kick away well, though, a little of the fans' fight deserted them and though the players kept at it, it was clear the best they could do was salvage some pride.

Jamie McGrath nearly did that when he hit the post after a neat bit of footwork after which Bermingham fired straight at the goalkeeper and Conan Byrne had a penalty claim waved away. All of that late dominance, though came against the background of a certain Skonto victory.

The early exit means Shamrock Rovers are now scheduled to be at home to Odds BK of Norway next week. For Buckley and co, there is only the cup, realistically, and campaign to ensure they have another crack at getting the European recipe right in Richmond next July.

ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC: Clarke; O'Brien, Browne, Desmond, Bermingham; Bolger; Byrne, Forrester, Brennan, Greene (Langley, 65 mins); Fagan (McGrath, 65 mins).

SKONTO RIGA: Pavlovs; Timofejevs, Rode, Smirnovs, Sorokins; Jermolajevs, Kozlovs, Murillo (Isajevs, 77 mins); Kovalovs, Karasausks (Ivanovs, 83 mins), Gutkovskis (Visnakovs, 64 mins).

Referee: T Musial (Poland).

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times

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