A mere two days after the Boys in Green exited EURO 2016, an Irish side was back in continental competition as St. Patrick’s Athletic opened their Europa League campaign with a 1-0 over Luxembourg side Jeunesse Esch.
Christy Fagan headed home the decisive goal in the 10th minute thus becoming Pat’s highest ever goalscorer in European competition with five goals.
Saints started the game well with the first chance of note coming after five minutes with Graham Kelly just failing to get on the end of a low Fagan pass from the left.
Five minutes later it was Fagan who broke the deadlock. Darren Dennehy headed a corner against the post before the taking advantage of some slack defending by the visitors and crossing for Fagan who was on hand to head home.
The Luxembourers first opportunity arrived in the 18th minute when midfielder Ken Corral hit an ambitious effort from 25 yards out which was easily caught by Pat’s goalkeeper Brendan Clarke.
Clarke was busy again in the 33rd minute when he spilled Giancarlo Pinna’s corner before gathering at the second attempt.
From this, the goalkeeper launched a promising counter-attack which ended when Fagan played a wayward pass to full-back Ian Bermingham.
The home side went in at the break good value for their lead before the visitors came out revitalised at the start of the second half.
Giancarlo Pinna, perhaps their most impressive player on the night, swung in a cross ten minutes into the second half but Patrick Stumph didn’t trouble Clarke with the resulting effort on goal.
On 73 minutes, Liam Buckley’s men had the ball in the net once more but Sean Hoare’s effort was ruled out for offside. Four minutes later, Darren Dennehy was the hero after clearing of the line from a Stumph header.
Fagan had a low shot blocked with 10 minutes remaining but Pat’s ultimately failed to get a second goal which would have seen them travel to Luxembourg next week in a more comfortable position.
Buckley will be satisfied with a clean sheet which may go a long way towards sealing a first aggregate victory in a European tie since 2012/2013.
However, he will hope that his side are more clinical with their finishing in the return leg as they look to bag an all-important away goal.
St. Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien (c), Sean Hoare, Darren Dennehy, Ian Bermingham; Conan Byrne (Mark Timlin 60), David Cawley, Keith Tracey, Graham Kelly, Billy Dennehy; Christy Fagan.
Jeunesse Esch: Marc Oberweis (c); Milos Todorovic, Adrien Portier, Ricardo Delgado, Herve Emmanuel; Ken Corral (Ashot Sardaryan, 24), Martin Ontiveros (Andrea Deidda, 80) Robin Mertinitz, Rene Peters, Giancarlo Pinna; Patrick Stumpf.