herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Europa dream is still on, claims Aaron Greene as St Pats narrowly lose in Riga

Skonto defeat a blow but away goal keeps tie alive for Saints

Chris Forrester contests the ball
Chris Forrester contests the ball
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THE GREEK nation may be heading full-on for a Euro exit.

But there are no plans for the citizens of Dublin 8 to abandon their own Eurovision as a place in the second qualifying round of the Europa League, and a likely date with Hungarian side Debrecen (they won their first leg 3-0 last night), remains the dream for St Patrick's Athletic.

The Saints had an away goal as part of their luggage for the flight back to Dublin from the Baltics after last night's 2-1 loss to Skonto Riga, Aaron Greene the man who put Pat's in front on 21 minutes, only for Skonto to nab a goal in each half to earn a win for the Latvians, Skonto breaking from defence to earn the win with goals from Arturs Karasausks (38 minutes) and Vladislavs Gutkovskis (65 mins).

Energy-sapping heat and injuries at the back - key defenders Ger O'Brien and Sean Hoare had to be replaced - caused problems for Liam Buckley's side.

But while Skonto are a solid-looking outfit, they are no world beaters and look like one of those sides who have no chance of progress to the group stage of the Europa League.

Speaking afterwards, Skonto's manager Tamaz Pertia (think Shane Byrne with a Georgian accent and a dodgy past that included a lifetime ban, later lifted, for alleged involvement in a match-fixing scandal) praised their visitors and their style of play and admitted that the tie was still in the balance.

The Saints' home record in Europe of late is poor but while the atmosphere at this game last night was dismal - 80 visitors from Ireland in a crowd of 1,780 which looked very lonely in a stadium which holds 10,000 - Pats hope that a show of strength in Inchicore next week can swing things their way.

"If we get our heads down and get a good crowd in for the home leg we have a great chance. It was a poor crowd there last night so if we can pack the place in Inchicore next week, use the tight pitch and impose ourselves on the game we can get through," Pats winger Aaron Greene told The Herald.

"We have a lot of experience in that dressing room but we could have managed it better, if we can be a bit cuter, more clever, in the home leg we're in with a great chance.

"If we had been beaten 2-0 and hadn't created any chances I'd be worried but we did create chances, they were very open as they play a 3-4-3, take our chances at home and we'll be ok.

"It was a tough game, they are a good side. But hopefully the away goal can stand us in good stead for the home leg. We could have managed the game better as a team but it's not a bad result, to come home with an away goal and the tie still alive.

"You come away from home trying not to concede and hoping to nick an away a goal, it's great that we scored but disappointing that we conceded two.

"We will stress the positives, we will look at how we conceded the goals, from their point of view they were good goals," added Greene.

The ex-U21 cap admitted he was having a "nightmare" up until his 21st minute goal ("I just couldn't get my foot on the ball") but a superb pass from Christopher Forrester proved the opening he needed and Greene finished well.

Pats could have doubled that lead on 31 minutes when Hoare flashed a header wide from a Killian Brennan ball, but seven minutes from the break Skonto were level.

With Lee Desmond on for the injured Ger O'Brien, Pats kept their shape but were caught off guard on 65 minutes when Gutkovskis finished off a fine counter-attacking move, and Buckley they had to make another change as Hoare picked up an injury so Jason McGuinness came into the fray.

Skonto were now in control and while sub Jamie McGrath showed some lovely touches, Pats had no way past keeper Pavlovs again.

"We should give Skonto credit but I feel we are a better side, we have quality all over the side while they have three or four really talented players but overall we are better," added midfielder Greene.

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