Pats and Drogs begin their Europa League campaigns!
Last night the long road to the 2013/14 Europa League began for many unknown clubs as the qualifying rounds got underway. Two League of Ireland clubs were flying the flag as St Pat’s faced a tricky away trip to Zalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania and Drogheda United stepped out against Swedish giants Malmo in Tallaght Stadium in Dublin.
Žalgiris Vilnuis 2-2 St Patricks Ath.
The Saints who are currently in pole position at the top of the League of Ireland have performed very well in recent years in Europe which gave them confidence heading into this match against a side unfamiliar to most from this part of Europe.
The Lithuanians broke the deadlock on 22 minutes when midfielder Pavel Komolov punished poor defending, blasting the ball into the roof of the net from just inside the penalty area to give Zalgiris the lead. The Inchicore outfit had chances themselves later on in the half, notably when Conan Byrne’s close effort was well saved by Vitkauskas at his near post. Pat’s finally responded when Byrne equalized 10 minutes into the second half. Conor Kenna won a header which Greg Bolger controlled to play a sublime ball through for the run of Byrne. The former Shelbourne player made amends for wasting his first half chance to lob Vitkauskas, who’d raced off his line.
Žalgiris took the lead again with 20 minutes remaining with Kamil Bilinski scoring from close range following a wonderful save from Brendan Clarke. As it was looking like St Pat's would head back to Dublin with just 1 away goal, birthday boy Ger O'Brien rifled home from 20 yards to give the Saints a great chance of progressing to the second qualifying round. Substitute Shane McFaul laid the ball off for the run of O’Brien who found the top corner scoring his first ever goal for the club.
Drogheda United 0 - 0 Malmo F.F.
Back at home Drogheda United had a tough task against well known Swedish side Malmo in the Europa League Qualifier round 1 also. Malmo previously knocked out Rangers in the Champions League Qualifiers a couple of years ago. The Drog’s home ground United Park wasn’t deemed to be up to Uefa stadium regulations and so were forced to play in Shamrock Rovers’ home ground Tallaght Stadium. The Boynesiders mananger Mick Cooke has turned the club’s fortunes around after taking the helm 2 years ago and notably winning the EA Sports Cup last year.
After an early half-chance for Drogheda Emil Forsberg had the first notable goal attempt on 13 minutes when his 35-yard shot had keeper Gabriel Sava scrambling across his goal.
But despite having most of the ball, were unable to break the Drog’s back four. The Louth outfit soon grew in confidence and there were strong appeals for a penalty which were waved away as David Cassidy seemed to be tripped by Magnus Eriksson.
Drogheda’s best chance once on the night came in the second half when they went close with a free kick with Alan Byrne at the back post heading the ball just over the crossbar onto the roof of the net. The home side certainly felt the physicality of the visitors who had three players booked with Gary O’Neill on the receiving end of a number of hefty challenges from behind.
United were in for a nerve wracking last 15 minutes when Ryan Brennan picked up his second yellow card on 75 minutes for a foul. His first yellow was as the result of dissent earlier in the half when he felt Albornoz should seen yellow for a strong challenge. Drogheda’s Italian keeper Gabriel Sava was pulled off a fantastic double save as Markus Halsti and Magnus Eriksson had efforts on goal. With 87 minutes on the clock it looked like Malmo had found the vital away goal as South African International Tokelo Rantie had time to turn in the box and shoot but an outstretched boot from Sava saved the day for Drogheda. The home side continued to defend for their lives entering the last few moments and courageously held on for a fantastic result. Next Thursday, United travel to the Swedbank Stadium in Stockholm for the 2nd leg with real hope that they can progress to the next round.