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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Michael Scully

Tim Clancy hails new goal hero Serge Atakayi and a 'perfect' night for St Pat's in Sofia

Serge Atakayi added another chapter to an already remarkable life story at the Vasil Levsky National Stadium in Sofia last night.

Atakayi, 23, was the SuperSaints' super sub in the Bulgarian capital last night, his 87th minute winner securing one of the best ever results in Europe by an Irish club.

The deserved victory means that if Tim Clancy's side can do the business in Tallaght on Thursday, they will be in a play-off with Brondby or Basel for a place in the ECL group stages - and in for the €3m bonanza that goes with it.

Having had to scrap plans to come home last night after their charter was cancelled, the Saints had to scramble to make arrangements for their return but at least they could do so with a historic result banked.

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"Tonight is a perfect night for us at Pat's, we defended bravely and we took one of the chances that we got on the counter-attack," said Saints boss Clancy.

"It was the performance that we had to have.

"There was nobody off their game at all at this level. Serge coming on, I'm delighted for him because he has the ability and physical attributes in regards to his pace.

"He was disappointed on Sunday (after the FAI Cup defeat to Waterford) because he gave a short back pass and they scored.

"Tonight it's roles reversed and he feels on top of the world because he's after getting one of the best results there has been from an Irish club in Europe, away to the team of the calibre of CSKA.

"So I'm delighted for Serge to get that goal as well. From the start to the finish, every player was brilliant.

"It's always different when you're watching from the sidelines so we'll watch the game back and analyse it, prepare for the game next week, see if we can pick up a few things that we noticed throughout the game.

"Certainly on the sideline there were a lot of hairy moments, balls into the box and we managed to defend them very well.

"But I still think at the other end of the pitch we had a few very good opportunities where again the final ball or the final decision probably let us down.

"Certainly it gives us a little more belief going into next Thursday."

Having dispatched Slovenian outfit Mura on penalties in the second qualifying round, this tie was seen as another step up for the Inchicore club.

But St Pat's looked comfortable for most of this encounter and can have real hopes of progressing.

Had they been more clinical, they wouldn't have had to wait until so late for their breakthrough.

But Atakayi, who joined the club less than three weeks ago, showed how it's done - and what a time and a place to score a debut goal.

The striker claimed asylum in Finland as part of a youth side from the Democratic Republic of Congo that was playing in the 2010 Helsinki World Cup.

He became the youngest ever scorer in the Finnish top flight before moving to Rangers as a 17-year-old, then back to Finland with SJK before joining the Saints on an 18-month deal.

He has already made his mark in a big way.

As the visitors tired in the 28 degree heat, Atakayi was one of the reinforcements sent for by Clancy and he replaced Billy King in the 81st minute.

Six minutes later, Jamie Lennon won a vital header clear from a CSKA corner, O'Reilly fired a ball over the top and, under pressure from Atakayi, defender Asen Donchev's misjudged his header back to Gustavo Busatto.

Atakayi nutmegged the keeper and stroked home.

St. Patrick's Athletic super sub Serge Atakayi celebrates scoring their first goal late in the game with Eoin Doyle (©INPHO/Kostadin Andonov)

"The game was getting stretched and I think they were feeling pressure from their home fans to go and get a winner themselves," said Clancy.

"Serge has that energy, that pace and the quality as well, so we thought that making that change in that moment in the game might have given us that opportunity.

"And thankfully Serge got onto a short back pass, rounded the keeper and slotted home, and got us the win."

The visitors saw out a tense six minutes of injury time as keeper Joseph Anang saved from Mauricio Garces to secure the victory.

The likes of Lennon, O'Reilly, King and Barry Cotter took the game to a CSKA side that was sluggish to start with and never found a high gear.

The Saints were energised on the counter, especially through the tireless Cotter. Nevertheless Pat's were wasteful too often.

For instance, Cotter's 25th minute run should have King as he charged in on goal, but he over-hit the cross.

St. Patrick's Athletic’s Barry Cotter with Bradley De Nooijer of CSKA Sofia (©INPHO/Kostadin Andonov)

In the second half, O'Reilly produced a weak finish after a promising run, then Doyle found himself in acres of space but Chris Forrester couldn't find him with a diagonal ball.

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

The best that CSKA could muster was a 31st minute shot by Garces and, while Anang couldn't hold it, he did so at the second attempt.

There were moments when the Saints rearguard was under pressure but, bar one second half blip, Joe Redmond was a colossus at the heart of it.

“We came here to be resilient and that’s what we did," said the skipper.

“I think we managed the game, to a man, excellently. We defended when we needed to defend.

“Going into next week we have to be that little bit better because everyone is going to up their game.

“We’ve got to be right at it again next week as well."

The Saints' were scrambling to change their travel plans last night as their scheduled return had to be postponed until today.

But the men from Inchicore will believe all the more now.

However Clancy warned: "We're under no illusion in thinking it's going to be easier next week, it will be harder than it was tonight and for us to get through is going to take an effort from everyone."


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