Cork City’s European campaign can now be called an odyssey.
The club’s latest continental assault will now stretch into a third round — where they will face Belgian side Genk — for the first time in over a decade after one of the great European nights at Turner’s Cross ended with John Caulfield’s side accounting for their more exalted Swedish opponents.
Kevin O’Connor’s first-half goal was the difference on the night as City gave the lie to the suggestion that the 1-1 draw claimed in the first leg in Gothenburg had been aided by an opponent that had underestimated their technical and tactical abilities.
There were no quibbles last night. This was richly deserved over 180 minutes and Cork now find themselves with another €220,000 to be transferred into the club’s bank account and a Europa League third qualifying round tie to come.
Not a bad evening’s work.
The last time City won two European ties in one season was all of 11 years ago when they evicted FK Ekranas and Djurgardens in a tournament that was still called the Uefa Cup. Last night was a welcome return to those great days.
City’s one injury concern had been an important one but captain and midfielder Greg Bolger lined up from the off again despite being hampered for the last three weeks with the ankle injury he picked up in the first round first leg tie against Linfield in Belfast.
Caulfield, not surprisingly, opted to leave well enough alone with his starting XI after the impressive performance in Gothenburg last week, while his counterpart Peter Gerhardsson kept changes close to a minimum.
With defender Baba Mensah suspended on the back of the red card he incurred seven days earlier, Gerhardsson drafted in the 19-year old Joel Andersson. Mohammed Abubakari, meanwhile, replaced the veteran Martin Ericsson in midfield.
That flew in the face of suggestions that the Swedes would indulge in wholesale changes after their disappointing efforts in the first meeting but Caulfield’s warning that Hacken would be a better outfit than seven days before rang true.
At least initially.
The Swedes dominated possession in the first quarter, just as City had in the first leg, and a goal looked likely as they bore down repeatedly on the Shed End under a teeming grey sky that was very different from the heat and sunshine of Gothenburg.
That said, there was all of 18 minutes played when John Owoeri, scorer of the equaliser last week, managed the first effort in anger on target. Mark McNulty was equal to the task and again a minute later when it was Nasiru Mohammed who was denied.
The latter was played in by a lazy Garry Buckley backpass and there would be more last-gasp interventions in the half with Alan Bennett and Stephen Dooley clearing attempts from Mohammed Abubakari and Paulinho off the line.
City were simply unable or maybe, given their crucial away goal and aggregate lead at that point, unwilling to force the issue as they had in Sweden though Hacken were more attuned to their threat last night.
Bolger, especially, was given little or no time on the ball but the Wexford playmaker still fashioned the opening goal for the hosts against the run of play after 23 minutes with a clever free-kick from the left that was pulled back to the edge of the area.
With a swarm of bodies gravitating towards the goal, Kevin O’Connor held back and had time and space to swing in a volley that found the net via a slight deflection.
It was completely against the run of play — and City’s first goal from ‘open’ play in 538 minutes stretching back to June 3.
Not a bad time for it to come.
Hacken’s hopes took another blow before the break after a Buckley challenge resulted in the impressive Mohammed being stretchered off. His incisive and clever runs were missed after the break when Hacken pressed but rarely looked like penetrating.
A low-drama third quarter suited City who actually crafted the better chances with Stephen Beattie blasting one over after a clever run that was spotted by Bolger and a couple of half-hearted penalty claims that were turned down. The tie was very nearly decided with 20 minutes left when a slick move saw Bolger play Dooley down the left. His cross found Gearoid Morrissey whose shot from the edge of the area found Peter Abrahamsson’s fingertips on its way just over the bar.
Hacken continued to press but their efforts lacked conviction and imagination and McNulty was the grateful recipient of more than a few tame efforts from all manner of distances and angles before the inevitable mad, final assault. City survived that.
They did more than that over these two legs. Much more.
M McNulty; M McSweeney, K Browne, A Bennett, K O’Connor; G Morrissey, G Bolger; S Beattie, G Buckley, S Dooley; S Maguire.
G Holohan for Morrissey (78); M O’Sullivan for Maguire (89).
P Abrahamsson; J Andersson, E Wahlstrom, J Sudic, K Arkivuo; S Gustafsson, R Schuller, M Abubakari; N Mohammed, J Oweiri, Paulinho.
D Savage for Mohammed (45); M Ericsson for Schuller (64); A Jeremjeff for Owoeri (72).
CM Taborda Xistra (Portugal).
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