AEK Larnaca 1 - 0 Cork City (AEK win 2-0 on agg.): Cork City boss John Caulfield had to accept a heartbreaking defeat and Europa League exit in the heat and humidity of Larnaca in Cyprus last night.
Another AEK goal against the run of play proved to be the fatal blow for the Leesiders in what was the Cypriots’ first European game at their brand new 7,400-seater AEK Arena, built next to the old national stadium.
“Over the two legs we didn’t play as well as we did last year against Genk but, having said that, it was a frustrating night for us though and we certainly should have had a penalty in the second half,” said Caulfield.
“We felt it was a soft goal to cough up and it was a deflected shot that led to their headed winning goal.
“Perhaps they should have had a man red-carded and then we had the penalty claim but those decisions went against us.
“They were the two big decisions in the game and we didn’t get them but there is no shame losing to a better quality team like AEK Larnaca. It’s a different intensity in European football and we also had to cope with the heat and high levels of humidity,” added Caulfield.
“The lads are flat out in the dressing room and they left nothing on the pitch here and I am very proud of them.
“We are very disappointed to lose here, two 1-0 defeats, and that makes a change for Irish teams in European competition.
“It was a soft goal though and that was disappointing too but we were up against a quality and classy opponent tonight.”
There was to be no fairytale ending for Seanie Maguire and Kevin O’Connor as they head to Preston on Sunday to take up their new contracts at Deepdale as French-born frontman Florian Taulemesse plunged the sword into City’s Euro bid.
City, aiming to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit, took to the pitch in 28 degrees of heat and with the humidity running at 52% — earlier in the afternoon it was 32 degrees and breezy.
On the plus side for the visitors was that the entire pitch was in shadow at kick-off.
City made one change from the first leg with Jimmy Keohane coming in at right-back and wide player Karl Sheppard dropping out last night while the home team went with an unchanged team from the first leg.
City suffered their first defeat of the season last Thursday when edged out 1-0 at Turner’s Cross by the Cypriots and twice in the opening minutes last night, Mark McNulty had to make two big saves to deny Taulemesse and Truyols who had got the goal in Turner’s Cross.
McNulty dived to his right to push away Tualemesse header from Hevel’s cross and then Truyols’ deflected shot was tipped over the bar.
AEK, who celebrated their birthday earlier this week, won the Cypriot FA Cup back in 2006 but in their 23-year history they have never won the league championship.
Despite limited possession and poor quality passing, City had a great chance on 22 minutes when Maguire laid the ball off to Stephen Dooley but he delayed his shot and rolled it wide.
Garry Buckley was high and wide six minutes later from Keohane’s pass and O’Connor had a shot blocked away before Cork won their first corner on the half hour mark.
But the game changed when AEK scored on 33 minutes against the run of play. Conor McCormack’s clearance dropped nicely for Dutch winger Hector Hevel and his deflected cross was netted by the diving Florian Taulemesse, the Cypriots’ French-born centre-forward.
It all left Cork needing two goals away from home to go through to the third round of the competition.
The home team should have been reduced to ten men when Taulemesse showed studs in a bad challenge on McCormack — he escaped with a yellow card which keeps him out of the first leg with Minsk next week.
City were denied a late penalty when Maguire was clearly pushed in the back by Hevel.
City’s next league action is at home to Galway United on this night week and the Tribesmen are still the only team to have taken points off Cork in a 1-1 draw at Eamonn Deacy Park back in May.
AEK LARNACA (4-2-3-1):
Pablo; Truyois, Catala (capt), Mojsov, Antoniades; Larena, Laban; Trickovski, Tomas, Hevel; Taulemesse.
Chamorro for Tomas (72 mins), Mytides for Taulemesse (80 mins), Boljevic for Trickovski (87 mins).
CORK CITY (4-2-3-1):
McNulty; Beattie, Delaney, McCormack, O’Connor; Bolger (capt), Morrissey; Keohane, Buckley, Dooley; Maguire.
Sadlier & Campion for Dooley & Buckley (60 mins), Sheppard for Keohane (66 mins).
Pavle Radovanovic (Montenegro)
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