There are any number of ways of expressing the intimidating size of the task facing Cork City in the second-leg of their Europa League First Round tie against Progres Niederkorn here in Luxembourg this evening, but perhaps the most straightforward is to note that a side which hasn’t scored in its last three competitive games must now score three in one outing to secure an outright win or, failing that, two to extend the life of this tie into extra time.
And no less daunting for City is the reality that, if they are to have any chance of pulling off what looks like a mission impossible, they also need to keep at bay a home side to whom they pretty much gifted two first-half goals at Turner’s Cross last week, with the result that, even before the first whistle blows in the Stade Municipal de la Ville in Differdange at 6.30pm Irish time this evening, Niederkorn already appear to be firmly on course for a meeting with Glasgow Rangers in the next round.
But City head coach John Cotter insists his side do have it in them to buck the odds.
“Absolutely, not many people expect us to come over here and get anything but if we put in the performance that we know is in the players, we can get a positive result,” he says. “We need to try and get that first goal because if we do that we know the tie will open up. But we just have to have a bit of patience as well — that goal doesn’t have to come in the first 10 or 15minutes. We just have to keep doing the right things and, if we do get a setback like last week, make sure that we don’t drop our heads.
“I get that at times when confidence is an issue that that can happen. But we need to get back to doing what we were doing before the first goal last week. As you say, not many people expect us to do anything here but I know the boys and I know they way we’ve trained and prepared for this game, so that if we put in a performance a result will hopefully follow.”
For midfielder Gearóid Morrissey, there is, at the very least, the important matter of restoring pride for the City players who were left deflated by last week’s result.
“First and foremost, we need to put in a performance that, when we’re getting on the plane tonight, we can look at each other and know that we gave it everything,” he says. “And we would have the belief and confidence that, if we do that, we could possibly get a result. If we didn’t think that, there’d be no point in coming out here. We definitely have belief that we have the players in our squad to get a result here.”
For Niederkorn manager Roland Vrabec, the worry is precisely that the visitors know they have it all to do.
“What is important is that they don’t have anything to lose right now,” he says. “And that is what makes them dangerous for us. This is difficult for us because we have to play at the same level as we did in Cork and we want to score the first goal. But you know how it is: if Cork score the first goal — and it doesn’t matter when — everything is open again.”
If Progres do prevail, it already seems a foregone conclusion that, with Steven Gerrard’s team four-up after the first leg of their game against St Joseph’s of Gibraltar, a meeting with Rangers awaits, with local fans here understandably already fixated on the idea of a rematch against the Glasgow giants they so famously humbled two years ago.
“I can understand this completely,” says the manager. “It’s a big game against Glasgow Rangers and everyone is looking forward to it. But we have to play against Cork first. Because it’s just half-time. We have to play a very good game against Cork to be in the next round and I think the players are aware of this.
“Hopefully,” he adds with a laugh.
For the visitors, there will be no Mark O’Sullivan this evening, the striker having remained at home to be with his wife who is expecting a baby.
Meanwhile, a decision will be made today on the availability or otherwise of Shane Griffin and Kevin O’Connor who were being monitored in training yesterday at the modest stadium in Differdange which doubles as Niederkorn’s home from home in European competition after their own ground failed to meet Uefa’s requirements.