Sunday 17 December 2017

legacy OF LEGIA lingers for Pats

Buckley wants Saints response in Athlone

WITH A lengthy gap between themselves and the leading pair in the Premier Division title race there's little time for the players of St Patrick's Athletic to feel sorry for themselves about last week's heavy defeat in the Champions League.

But boss Liam Buckley feels it will take time for the Saints players to get that 5-0 loss at home to Legia Warsaw out of their system even though the Saints have to go and do battle in the league tonight, away to Athlone Town (7.45pm).

The last time they were so well beaten at home in Europe, against Zimbru Chisinau in the Champions League back in 1999, they had time to absorb the defeat as in the days before summer soccer, there was a three-week gap between the second leg against Zimbru and the start of the new league season, but summer soccer offers no luxuries like time off. "We are all disappointed and we are all gutted. I know from experience that it won't go away overnight, a defeat like that lingers," Buckley told The Herald ahead of that trip to Athlone, the Pats squad reduced by injuries and suspensions.

"That said, we are professionals and we have a job to do and that starts now in Athlone tonight.

"Only the top three teams in the league qualify for Europe, we had a taste of Europe this month and we want to be back here again next year so that has to be the target, at least a top-three finish to make sure we are in Europe again.

"We would love to be back in the Champions League again next season. We are fourth in the league at the minute so we have to keep our feet on the ground for this weekend at least, go to Athlone and put in a good performance and see what we can get from it. We focus on our targets now, we can't change the past, we can't change what happened at home to Legia on Wednesday night.

"What we can do is try to learn from it and move on, assess what went wrong and try to correct that into the future," added Buckley, still at a loss as to how his side faded so badly against Legia, sloppily conceding three goals in the last nine minutes.

"We have to play better," he says of future European campaigns. "We have use the ball better, pass it better, work harder."

Buckley has a tight squad - just 21 players used in the league so far this season - but that squad will be tested tonight. Keith Fahey starts a two-match ban tonight and there were concerns over the fitness of defenders Ger O'Brien, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham and Ken Oman after the Legia defeat so men like Sean Hoare (above) and Lorcan Fitzgerald may come into contention.

"We have a squad and we have to use that but we will need changes tonight," he says.

Athlone were taught a lesson by Pats in their last meeting, a 4-0 win for Pats in April, but Keith Long's side have picked up form of late with just three defeats in the last six in the league.

Town are boosted by the return from suspension of Derek Prendergast but boss Long has a worrying injury list. Aidan Collins, Paul Skinner and Sean Byrne are out while Alan Byrne, Stephen Quigley and Graham Rusk are doubts but Philip Gorman could return.

Meanwhile, St Pat's now know they will face old rivals Shelbourne in the next round of the FAI Cup following yesterday's third round draw.

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