St Patricks Athletic were the victims of an early exit from European competition as they lost 2-1 to Lithuanian outfit Zalgiris Vilnius at Richmond Park on Thursday night.
After a poor first half, Zalgiris dealt the Saints a hammer blow in first half injury time as lax defending allowed Mantas Kuklys to fire home past Brendan Clarke to put the Lithuanians ahead.
Six minutes into the second half Zalgiris doubled their lead, a cross from the right found Polish striker Kamil Bilinski unmarked in the area to poke the ball past a helpless Clarke.
The saints were handed a lifeline on 85 minutes when Killian Brennan fired home a penalty following a foul on substitute Anto Flood. Unfortunately for the Inchicore men it was not enough and the Lithuanian league leaders progress to face Pyunik Yerevan of Armenia in the next round.
After a frantic two all draw in Vilnius last Thursday it was a quiet opening to proceedings on the pitch although both sets of fans made themselves heard in the stands.
The visitors had the first shot on goal 15 minutes in with Arturas Zulpa miscuing his shot high onto the roof of the shed end when he possibly had time to slip Kamil Bilinski in on goal.
Pats could very well have taken the lead moments later, Conan Byrne beating Vaidotas Silenas down the Pats right before cutting the ball back across goal. It ultimately evaded the onrushing Forrester, who desperately tried to flick the ball past Armantas Vitkauskas in the Zalgiris net.
Former Shelbourne man Byrne continued to be the only thorn in the Lithuanian's side, his low driving cross was calling out for a Saint to latch onto. Unfortunately for the Inchicore faithful, no one did.
Killian Brennan and Chris Forrester were lax in possession just past the half hour and were almost made pay when the former was dispossessed by Mantas Kuklys. He charged into the Saints half before laying it off to Andro Svrljuga. The winger in turn played the ball into the feet of last weeks goal scorer Pavel Komolov whose shot looked destined for goal only for a telling block by the recovering Forrester.
Forrester’s lazy passing almost cost the Saints again eight minutes from the break. He under hit a pass to keeper Brendan Clarke and had Radavicius been a yard quicker he may well have opened the scoring. Instead though the ball was worked to the Zalgiris left for left back Silenias to fire high over Clarke’s bar.
The Lithuanians struck a telling blow in first half stoppage time. The ball was worked into the saints area and Komolov cut the ball back for Kuklys and he smashed the ball low past a helpless Brendan Clarke to put the away side ahead in the game and in the tie.
The Saints and particularly Christy Fagan looked reinvigored as the second half began. The lone frontman battled to win the ball off Luka Peric before having his laboured shot blocked by Andrius Skerla.
That reinvigoration was short lived as on 50 minutes, good work from first Kamolov and then half time substitute Rytis Lelguia on the right fed the ball to Polish Under-21 international striker Bilinski. He found space and finished delicately past Clarke to completely erase the Saints away goal advantage and send the large travelling support into a state of euphoria.
Zalgiris were close to making it three just past the hour mark, a shot come cross from Egidijus Vaitkunas was saved well down low from Clarke who was enduring a busier night than he might have hoped.
It seemed as if St Pats had woken up after that chance, dominating the possession with Anto Flood seeming to offer more attacking impetuous upon his arrival. This spell of pressure culminated with Ger O’Brien crossing for Greg Bolger. The former UCD midfielder flicked the ball goal wards but it was dealt with well by Vitkauskas.
O’Brien had moved into a wing back position in a 3-5-2 formation and his ball found Christy Fagan. The striker turned, but shot wide while off balance at the edge of the area.
Zalgiris were happy to take a 2-0 win and sat back, the only attempt of note from them was a free kick that Bilinski ballooned out of the stadium from 30 yards.
With seven minutes remaining on the clock, the Saints were handed a lifeline. Brennan’s pass fed Flood who turned and after his shirt was pulled by Skerla, the Croatian referee pointed to the spot.
Brennan dispatched confidently into the top corner, sending the keeper the wrong way and a comeback was well and truly on.
Zalgiris continued to show a lack of knowledge on closing games out as they blazed another free kick over the crossbar when the ball would probably be better suited going into the corner.
The Saints could not find a chance of any sort let alone a second goal and the team top of the Lithuanian First Division hung on for a away victory at Richmond Park.
St Patricks Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien, Conor Kenna, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham; Conan Byrne (Aidan Price 59), John Russell (Jake Kelly 86), Greg Bolger, Killian Brennan, Chris Forrester (Anthony Flood 59); Christy Fagan.
Subs not used: Dave Ryan (GK), Stephen Maher, Sean Gannon, Shane McFaul.
Booked: Browne (10), Russell (85), Price (87)
Zalgiris Vilnius: Armantas Vitkauskas; Andrius Skerla, Egidijus Vaitkunas, Luka Peric, Vaidotas Silenas (Paulius Janusauskas 67); Ramunas Radavicius (Rytis Leligua 46), Andro Svrljuga, Pavel Komolov (Eivinus Zagurskas 78), Arturas Zupla, Mantas Kuklys; Kamil Bilinski.
Subs not used: Aivaras Brazinskas (GK), Georgas Freidgeimas, Algis Jankauskas, Andrius Velicka.
Booked: Radavicius (20), Zulpa (56), Skerla (72)
Referee: Igor Pristovnik (Croatia).
Man of the Match: Mantas Kuklys (Zalgiris Vilnius).