Some people think it’s all Hannover… it is now.
There might still be a second leg of this Europa League Third Qualifying Round fixture to come next week but, after their heroics in the previous two rounds, St Patrick’s Athletic know that they have only pride left to play for now.
Like Ireland in the Euros, they suffered last night from the concession of an early goal but, despite offering some hints of a recovery, they could have no real complaints in the end as they lost out to a side with almost 250 caps among its starting 11 and which, last year, reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
St Pat’s knew they were being asked to step up another level right from the off as Hannover simply bossed the football, taking just six minutes to claim the lead with a splendid goal as Leon Andreasen beat Brendan Clarke at the end of an incisive move. And, painful though the early blow was for Pat’s, it was an especially sweet moment for the Dane, since this game in Tallaght marked the former Fulham man’s first appearance since April 2010 after a succession of groin injuries had badly disrupted his career.
Backed by the incessant support of their 1,000-strong band of travelling supporters in a crowd of 4,236, the German side squeezed the space and repeatedly forced Pat’s into reverse, Chris Forrester switching flanks in a bid to bring his creative threat into the game. And, to their credit, the home-from-home side stuck to their task despite the early setback, even if their only efforts on goal in the first half were long rangers by Sean O’Connor and Greg Bolger, neither of which caused Ron-Robert Zieler — Germany’s third-choice keeper at Euro 2012 — too much trouble.
With the away goal already in the bag, there was a sense of the Bundesliga side playing well within themselves, as they continued to negotiate their pre-season. But the narrowness of their lead on the scoreboard was still enough to give encouragement to Pat’s who began the second half with renewed purpose.
And just three minutes after the restart, striker Christy Fagan had a glorious chance to level the scores. Zieler flapped a corner but, with the keeper on the ground, the striker struck his shot straight at Lars Stindl, the ball then rebounding harmlessly into the grateful Ziler’s hands.
For the first time in the game, the Pat’s supporters found their voice as Liam Buckley’s men applied concerted pressure, James Chambers firing just over the top of the Hannover crossbar. But right on the hour mark, they were served notice of the visitors’ threat, a quick-fire move ripping open the Pat’s defence only for substitute Konstantin Rausch, clean through on goal, to steer his effort the wrong side of the post.
Unfortunately for Pat’s, Christian Pander would make no such mistake from much further out, his 68th minute left-footed free-kick beating Brendan Clarke from fully 35 yards to put Hannover two up and leave Pat’s requiring something of a miracle to keep their Europa League dream alive.
Again to their credit, Liam Buckley’s team continued to try to play their passing game, with Fagan coming close to pulling a goal back in the 75th minute when his run from the left and angled shot just went wide of the Hannover post.
But with 10 minutes remaining, Didier Ya Konan was in the right place at the right time to make the most of a rebound and finish from close range, leaving Ireland’s last European competitors down and effectively out before next week’s now thankless trip to Germany.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Clarke; O’Brien, Kenna, Browne, Bermingham, Forrester (Carroll 86), Russell, Chambers, Bolger (Flood 82), O’Connor (Meenan 78), Fagan.
HANNOVER 96: Zieler, Cherundolo, Haggui, Eggimann, Pander, Stindl, Da Silva Pinto, Andreasen (Schmiedebach 71), Hustzi (Rausch 56), Schlaudraff (Abdellaoue 78), Ya Konan
Referee: Tamas Bognar (Hungary).
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