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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Michael Scully

CSKA 0 St Pat's Athletic 1 - the SuperSaints pull off one of the LOI's best ever European results

Saint Patrick's Athletic have produced one of the great European results by an Irish club thanks to supersub Serge Atakayi's late smash and grab goal against CSKA.

The 23-year-old, who only joined the Saints in mid-July, came on in the 81st minute at the Vasil Levsky National Stadium and six minutes later scored the only goal of the first leg in this European Conference League third round qualifying tie.

Tim Clancy's Saints were excellent throughout and deserved the lead they will bring back to Tallaght for next Thursday's second leg, with a place in the play-off against Brondby or Basel at stake - and a further €1m pay-out on top of the €750,000 already banked from this European run.

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After beating Mura on penalties last week, this tie in Sofia was seen as another step up but, in truth, if the Inchicore side had been more clinical they would have scored more goals in the Bulgarian capital.

The likes of Barry Cotter, Jamie Lennon, Adam O'Reilly and Joe Redmond really stood up and, while the Saints were expected to wilt in the 28 degrees heat, it was they who struck for the winner in the 87th minute.

Lennon won a vital header clear from a CSKA corner, O'Reilly raced onto the loose ball and fired a ball over the top and, under pressure from Atakayi, defender Asen Donchev made a mess of a header back to his Gustavo Busatto.

Atakayi kept his composure as he nutmegged the keeper and stroked the ball home, then the visitors saw out a tense six minutes of injury time - with keeper Joseph Anang making an important save from Brazilian striker Mauricio Garces to secure the victory.

The Saints made a very encouraging start as Cotter found Doyle down the right flank, and the striker tried to find the onrushing Billy King but his cross was cut out.

The hosts were sluggish from the kick off, conceding a lot of space to their opponents in the middle third. The Saints threatened on the break as the pace of Cotter and O'Reilly was used to good effect.

Wrong options were taken at times but when Chris Forrester linked with Anto Breslin, Billy King had time to unleash a shot that flew well over.

CSKA slowly began to get into the game but at the same time, continued to struggle - both Thibaut Vion and Garcez struck very poor crosses wide.

And a lung-busting counter-attack by Cotter may have produced the opening goal in the 25th minute.

However the new recruit from Shamrock Rovers over-cooked his cross when King, who was prominent in the opening half hour, was free in space.

St. Patrick's Athletic’s Barry Cotter with Jonathan Lindseth of Sofia (©INPHO/Kostadin Andonov)

In response, the hosts finally put together a couple of attacking moves of note and while they failed to make anything of two quick-fire corner kicks, they did almost make the breakthrough in the 31st minute.

Skipper Jurgen Mattheij's ball over the top for Garces allowed the marksman to cut in and shoot and Anang had to be sharp to save and then to collect the loose ball as Vion came charging in, the Saints keeper earning himself a free in the process.

Pat's retreated more and more as half-time approached and Tom Grivosti was booked for handball when Duckens Nazon attempted to dink the ball past him.

But the Irish club held on comfortably enough to the break, with Amos Youga well off target with the final effort of the half, and managed the first quarter hour of the second half well, too.

Cotter was somewhat harshly booked but the Saints looked comfortable in defence, with Grivosti doing well to cut out Bradley Di Nooijer's cross after he got to the byline.

At the other end, the visitors again had opportunities to make the most of breaks but O'Reilly produced a weak finish after a promising run, then Doyle found himself in acres of space but Forrester couldn't find him with a diagonal ball.

When he did, in the 64th minute, Doyle had a clear shot at goal and fired off the crossbar - and was probably relieved to see the flag go up for offside.

The Saints were visibly flagging as the contest entered its final quarter and survived a scare when Redmond and Harry Brockbank were caught out and Garcez almost pounced. However Pat's caused havoc in their rivals' box too, with Cotter's low cross cut out by Mattheij with O'Reilly waiting for a tap-in.

St. Patrick's Athletic fans look on in disbelief after Serge Atakayi scored the winning goal late in the game (INPHO/Kostadin Andonov)

When Clancy made a change, he turned to 16-year-old Sam Curtis, already an Ireland under-19 international, to replace Brockbank.

A superb 80th minute break by Pat's saw them with four against four defenders, but King went alone instead of looking for a killer pass and the winger blazed wide.

A terrible clearance by the CSKA captain saw Doyle cut back inside in the penalty area and unleash a shot that was also off target.

Anang was called upon moments later as De Nooijer found Stanislav Shopov and, as Curtis came in to block, the midfielder got his shot off - the Saints keeper saved at his near post.

CSKA pushed on but it was the Saints who countered superbly to put themselves ahead at half-time in the tie and a big night awaits in Tallaght next Thursday.


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