A good night that almost went down as one of the greats.
Sweden proved to be a happy hunting ground for Cork in the noughties with a win over Malmo and a draw at Djurgardens, and John Caulfield’s side came within seven minutes of aping those standout results in front of 2,022 fans in Gothenburg.
Ultimately, it was a fair result. Hacken finished the first leg of this Europa League second qualifying round tie strongly but City travelled homewards harbouring regrets after taking the lead through Sean Maguire’s 64th-minute penalty and the sending-off of Baba Mensah for the foul that brought about the spot kick.
“I thought we played very well,” said Caulfield. “We are disappointed obviously to concede a goal – it was preventable – after going 1-0 up. The Swedish league is a lot higher standard than our own and with the players they have we knew we would be under pressure.
“But the lads put in a great show. We tired a little bit but we played really well. We had opportunities. Before the match, if someone had said 1-1 I would have taken it but, with the way the game went, I’m disappointed because we could have won 1-0. The game is still 50-50.”
City’s hopes of claiming a positive result here were helped no end by the news before kick-off defensive lynchpin Kenny Browne and playmaker Greg Bolger had been passed fit. Both played key roles in an impressive display. Hacken, playing at their modern, state-of-the-art ground and on a 4G pitch with which Cork were not at all familiar, fielded a multi-national side, five of whom have played international football for their countries.
And yet City utterly stole their thunder.
The visitors gave the archetypal away from home display, robbing the Swedes of any early momentum by maintaining possession for long periods and creating their own chances when pushing forward, which they did at a number of opportune moments. Garry Buckley had Cork’s first attempt on goal – a shot from distance that flew well over the bar – after just three minutes and, though Maguire had the ball in the net four minutes later, it was disallowed for what the referee perceived as handball in the build-up.
It looked harsh. That aside, everything was going their way. Some of City’s play on the ground was exceptional. The game was 15 minutes old before goalkeeper Mark McNulty launched a long ball down the throats of Hacken’s defence but City made good use of that tactic too.
Hacken manager Peter Gerhardsson was having the proverbial canary in his technical area as Cork players won a succession of 50-50 balls. All in all, it took the home side 27 minutes to register a first shot and another seven to earn a corner. They worked their way into the game gradually but it was a sloppy pass from Gearóid Morrissey just outside his own penalty area that forced McNulty into a pair of superb saves from the Brazilian Paulinho and his Nigerian colleague John Owoeri after 28 minutes.
City’s best chance of the half had already come and gone when Garry Buckley just failed to get a toe to an Alan Bennett knock-down from Kevin O’Connor’s free-kick. If there was a quibble with the visitors it was the fact too many of their chances were shots from distance.
They eventually profited by working their way further into the Hacken danger area on 63 minutes when right-back Mensah pulled back Stephen Dooley who had been played expertly in behind the defence by Maguire.
The reward was immense with referee Amaury Delerus immediately pointing to the spot and sending Mensah off for denying Dooley a goalscoring opportunity when he was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Maguire, superb all night, did the necessary with a third penalty in three European ties.
It was a well-deserved lead for City though they lived dangerously too often. Three times at the start of the second period their careless play had almost let Hacken in for the lead and there were just 14 minutes to go when McNulty’s poor clearance near the corner flag almost allowed Paulinho an open goal.
Cork’s keeper atoned for it within seconds, his decision to sprint from his line depriving Owoeri from close range, but the Nigerian had his moment on 83 minutes when volleying home after McNulty had scrambled to keep out a Paulinho free-kick.
A disappointing end but it sets things up nicely for Turner’s Cross on Thursday.
P Abrahamsson; B Mensah, E Wahlstrom, J Sudic, K Arkivuo; S Gustafsson, R Schuller, M Ericsson; N Mohammed, J Oweiri, Paulinho.
D Savage for Ericsson (56); J Andersson for Mohammed (66); E Binaku for Arkivuo (78).
M McNulty; M McSweeney, K Browne, A Bennett, K O’Connor; G Morrissey, G Bolger; S Beattie, G Buckley, S Dooley; S Maguire.
K Sheppard for Beattie (74); M O’Sullivan for Buckley (85); C Healy for Maguire (92).
A Delerue (France).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved