Cork City 4 Levadia Tallinn 2 (Cork City win 6-2 on aggregate): Seán Maguire gave Cork City another taste of what they’ll be missing from next month with a brilliant hat-trick to inspire his team to victory on a memorable Europa League night at Turner’s Cross last night.
Soon to depart for Preston, Maguire’s mesmerising display ensured the Leesiders set up a second qualifying round tie with AEK Larnaca of Cyprus.
With €225,000 on the line last night, City were never going to get a free ride into the next round. And so it proved at Turner’s Cross last night, with the Estonians taking the lead twice in the game before finally bowing out.
Boss Igor Prins had promised that the real Levadia would turn up at Turner’s Cross after their lacklustre first leg display, and to their credit, they did. The Estonians looked a far more dangerous outfit last night, rising to the occasion in front of more than 6,300 fans at the Cross.
Evegeni Kobzar had their first chance within a minute but he fired aimlessy wide. It wouldn’t be his last contribution.
Three minutes later Maguire’s mazy dribble around the right edge of the box had Levadia’s defence scrambling nervously. When the ball fell to Kevin O’Connor, he struck cleanly from 30 yards out, the ball flying narrowly wide of goalkeeper Sergei Lepmets’s right-hand post.
Levadia’s Brazilian playmaker Jaao Morelli tried his luck from distance but City netminder Mark McNulty gathered comfortably.
Just eight minutes had elapsed when Jimmy Keohane’s deep cross found Garry Buckley loitering at the back post and his looping header bounced back off the bar and to safety.
Lepmets was flapping again as he left Stephen Dooley’s cross travel right across goal but Karl Sheppard fluffed his lines when asked to provide the finish.
And then a hammer blow on the quarter hour. Evegeni Kobzar was given too much time by Keohane, and from the edge of the box, he fired a rasping shot across Mark McNulty into the far corner.
Unbeaten in all competitions this season, City responded, Maguire and Sheppard combining well to force a corner. Levadia struggled to clear and Delaney’s glancing header from O’Connor’s cross flew narrowly wide.
On 28 minutes the equaliser arrived.
Right back Igor Dudarev had struggled from the start with Dooley and he was booked as he scythed down O’Connor 10 yards outside the box. City skipper Greg Bolger swung in the resulting free kick, and Sheppard sneaked in front of his marker to help the ball on with the slightest of touches, guiding an inch perfect header inside the post to level.
Caulfield’s relief was shortlived, The home crowd bayed for a handball as Kobnar controlled the ball under pressure from Delaney but referee Gunnar Jonson was unmoved. Kobnar’s brilliant cross was superbly converted by the inrushing Nikita Andreev to give Levadia the lead again, the roars of the home faithful ringing in the referee’s ears.
City responded again, and went close on 37 minutes, Dooley was the instigator in an intricate move finishing with Morrissey firing just wide.
In the build-up to the game John Caulfield had said he had hoped for an early goal to kill the game “for my health”. He didn’t get it in the first half but whatever words of encouragement the manager offered at the break, his players obliged in the second.
Just 40 seconds elapsed in the second half when the equaliser arrived. Buckley chipped the ball out to Sheppard on the right wing and his sliding pass was confidently flicked into the far corner of the net by Maguire.
City were in the ascendancy now and Maguire had the Levadia defence backpedalling en masse from the halfway line on 63 minutes with his direct running. He was giving the defence twisted blood again three minutes later, his dangerous run eventually cleared for a corner.
Tallinn manager Prins replaced the impressive Kobnar with Pavell Marin while Sheppard was replaced by first leg hero Steven Beattie on 69 minutes. Beattie was soon involved, going down under a challenge from Maksim Podholjuzin in the box but referee Jonsson was unmoved.
Andreev fired narrowly wide from 20 yards as Levadia chased the game but it was now Cork who looked more likely to finish the game off, O’Connor’s strike forcing Lepmets into a smart save.
Though they continued to put up a fight, the spark had gone out of the Estonians’ challenge and the game was up on 86 minutes when CIty’s wrecking ball substitute Achille Campion set up Maguire to fire home and give City a 3-2 lead.
From Griffin’s corner, Maguire headed home again in the final minute to complete his hat-trick.
So after a thrilling Europa League second leg, City go into the weekend league clash with St Patrick’s Athletic €225,000 richer.
With a trip to Larnaca to come, John Caulfield may need a check-up before this European run ends. And how he could do with a few more months of Maguire magic.
McNulty, Keohane, Delaney, McCormack, O’Connor, Bolger (Campion), Buckley, Morrissey, Dooley (Griffin 78),Sheppard (Beattie 69), Maguire Not used: Campion, Beattie, Ellis, Griffin, McCarthy, O’Mahony, Smith.
Lepmets, Dudarev, Atrjunin, Podholjuzin, Gando, Krznaric, Roosnup, Morelli, Kobzar (Marin 60), Andreev Hunt Not used: Marin, Teever, Raudsepp, Pikker, Kuusma, Mutso.
Gunnar Jarl Jonsson (Iceland)
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