Super Saints enjoy sweetest of victories

In what has been another week of bad news for the domestic game, St Patrick’s Athletic last night displayed the merits of full-time professional football to progress to the first round proper of the UEFA Cup with a sensational, heart-stopping and, it must be said, thoroughly deserved victory over Elfsborg at a packed and ecstatic Richmond Park.

And, as in the first leg, Pats did it the hard way, coming from behind in the dying moments to secure the 2-1 win — 4-3 on aggregate — which puts them in the pot with the likes of Spurs, Manchester City, AC Milan, Ajax and Valencia for today’s draw in Monaco.

Rarely has the old ground in Inchicore seen such a pulsating night as this, nor one with more potential significance for a club now just one game away from the group stage of one of Europe’s premier competitions.

“We deserved this win and I’m delighted for the club — players, management and the fans,” said manager Johnny McDonnell. “The players never panicked when we went a goal down.We had a plan and we stuck to it. Right from the start the team attacked them. There was no way we were going to play five in the middle and sit back.

“This was no fluke for we matched them in fitness and quality. In fact, we were fitter. Their player Anders Svensson has 86 caps and they have loads of Swedish internationals but we were the better team. This is great for the League of Ireland in what has been a week of doom and gloom.”

With two precious away goals in the bag after their stunning comeback in Sweden, Pats had to decide whether to concentrate on keeping a clean sheet and protect their advantage or try make Elfsborg’s uphill task even more mountainous by going for the killer goal.

The home side’s fast, fluent early play, in which the silky touches of Mark Quigley and Keith Fahy were prominent, made it clear that McDonnell’s team were not about to sacrifice adventure on the altar of caution. But they also risked being exposed by the Swedes’ attacking pace and, early on, only a poor touch by Lars Nilsson, playing off target man Daneil Avidic, let the striker down as he faced up to ‘keeper Barry Ryan.

At the other end, Fahy’s 30 yards drive had enough sting to elicit a fumble from Johan Wiland and, a minute later, the Swedish keeper had to rise high to fingertip a Quigley header over the top..

Then just four minutes from the break Nilsson spurned another chance to put the visitors ahead. At the end of a speedy one-touch break, the lanky striker brilliantly made himself space in the box. He attempted to place his shot past Barry Ryan who dived the right way to smother the shout.

A terrific game resumed in the second half at full tilt, with Fahy hitting a rising shot from distance that Wiland did well to hold just under his bar. And, in the 56th minute, Gary Dempsey’s left-footed belter from 25 yards crashed off the top of the bar, with Wiland well beaten. But, in a bodyblow for the Dublin side, it was Elfsborg who took the lead eight minutes later. Daniel Moback had his effort blocked, the ball deflected across the box to the unmarked Stefan Ishizaki who finished with a low, angled shot.

Substitute Alan Kirby, on for Bobby Ryan, tested Wiland after a great run down the left as Pats threw everything at Elfsborg in a bid to get the goal that would put them level on the night but, crucially, ahead on away goals. A big shout for a handball inside his own box by Nilsson came to naught but then, with just three minutes remaining, the jeers turned to cheers as defender Jason Gavin rose highest in the box to head home a Keith Fahy corner.

And as Elfsborg pressed forward to salvage the tie a second time, there was time for Mark Quigley to seal a great night for Pats, in some style, as he took advantage of a Derek O’Brien long ball to round Wiland and stroke the ball into the net.

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Barry Ryan, Lynch, Gavin, Paisley, Byrne (O’ Brien 81), Guy, Fahey, Dempsey, Bobby Ryan (Kirby 75), O’Neill (Fitzpatrick 70), Quigley

IF ELFSBORG: Wiland, Karlsson, Lucic, Augustsson, Floren, Ishizaki (Kurbegovic 81), Moback, Svensson, Bajrami (Keene), Nilsson, Avdic (Berglund 60).

Referee: Richard Havrille (Slovakia).

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