Brave Derry City lose narrowly to Tobol in Kazakhstan
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A stunning second half strike from former Kazakhstan U21 international Roman Asrankulov handed Tobol the advantage going into next Thursday night's second leg in Tallaght Stadium.
City keeper Brian Maher produced two brilliant saves in either half to keep the difference to a minimum but Ruaidhri Higgins' troops can take huge belief from this display 6,000km from home and they could so easily have been coming back with the tie on level terms.
Indeed, Michael Duffy was presented with a glorious chance to level the match on 79 minutes when Patching slotted him into space after a mistake from the goalkeeper but the winger, normally so composed in those scenarios, blasted into the side netting.
Considering the Kazakhs knocked last year's Europa Conference League semi-finalists out of the competition in the second round, this certainly wasn't a shabby result for the only remaining Irish team in Europe this summer.
Seventeen years to the day of one of Derry City's most famous European nights when they defeated Gretna 5-1 at Fir Park, Scotland in the Uefa Cup second round, there was to be no goal scoring hero on the night in Northern Kazakhstan on the Russian border but Maher and the excellent Sadou Diallo were two of the stand-out performers during an encouraging away European display.
Higgins made two enforced changes from the team which started the 3-3 draw against KuPS in the last round with midfielders Patrick McEleney and Cameron Dummigan deemed not fit enough to start as the pair began the match on the bench.
In came Diallo, who made such an impact against the Finnish as a substitute with a goal and an assist, alongside O'Reilly.Tobol dangerman Deble, who netted in both legs against Basel in the second round, was proving a real threat in the Kazakh's attack.
As early as the first minute the former Ivory Coast U21 international forced a terrific, instinctive save from Maher when the ball was played inside from the left and his shot on the turn was goalbound before the Derry keeper's interception.
Derry's first attack of the game arrived after five minutes from Ben Doherty's throw-in towards the penalty area which was headed out towards Duffy on the 18 yard line but the winger's snapshot sailed high over the crossbar.
When Will Patching dispossessed Tobol right-back Kairov on 16 minutes, the Englishman found Paul McMullan with a crossfield pass. The flying Scotsman dribbled past two Tobol defenders before he was brought crashing to ground just outside the penalty area by Rogac.
From the resultant free-kick Duffy laid the ball to Patching who smashed an effort over the wall and down the middle of the goal but Russian keeper Ivan Konovalov punched it clear.
Tobol were threatening from set-pieces and from a corner kick on 22 minutes taken by captain, Serikzhan Muzhikov, centre-half Bojan Mladovic got in front of Cameron McJanett at the near post but guided his header harmlessly over the target.
The home side were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men on 26 minutes when Muzhikov lunged into a challenge with O'Reilly with his two feet under the nose of Austrian match referee, Stefan Ebner but it went unpunished.
Maher once again came to Derry's rescue six minutes before the interval when Chesnokov's cross from the left was deflected into the path of Deble.
The striker's first attempt was charged down by McJannet but he was first to the rebound and Maher reacted quickly to block his effort at the near post.Derry were fortunate not to go behind on 58 minutes after a long ball sent Chesnokov in behind Doherty and into the penalty area but Maher did brilliantly to come off his line and save with his feet before drawing the foul.
It was a big moment in the match and three minutes later Derry fashioned their best chance of the tie from a throw-in as McMullan slotted into the path of O'Reilly who skipped past a defender but his cut back at the near post was blocked by Konovalov.
The deadlock was broken on 64 minutes in spectacular style when Vukadinovic laid it into the path of the unmarked Asrankulov who let fly with his left foot and it smashed off the underside of the crossbar and nestled into the net.
Diallo forced a neat save from a powerful 30 yard strike on 71 minutes as Derry searched for a way back into the match. The rebound fell to Patching who went down under the challenge of a Tobol defender but the referee booked the Derry player for simulation.
Tobol keeper threw the ball out to the feet of Patching who found Duffy on his left side and the winger skipped past his man but fired into the side netting from a tight angle.
It was a brilliant chance to lebel the game and Duffy held his head in his hands.Four minutes of stoppage time was signalled by the fourth official and Derry finished the strongest but couldn't find an equaliser as they return home to focus on their league campaign with a home fixture against Drogheda before that return leg in south Dublin.
With either Viktoria Plzeň (Czech Republic) or Gzira United (Malta) waiting in the next round, it's all to play for!
Tobol: Konovalov: Kairov (Gabaraev 67), Rogac, Mladovic, Asrankulov; Zharynbetov (Ilic 68), Orazov (Shakhov 68), Muzhikov (Zabelin 89); Chesnokov, Deble, Vukadinovic (Ivanovich 79); Subs Not Used - Bussurmanov, Semchenkov, Zhakupov, Kireenko, Mrkaic, Galym.
Derry City: Maher: Boyce, Connolly, McJannet, Doherty; McMullan ( B. Kavanagh 89), O'Reilly (P. McEleney 69), Diallo, Duffy; Patching (McEneff 82); C. Kavanagh (McGonigle 69); Subs Not Used - Ryan, Lemoignan, Dummigan, Mullen, Coll, S. McEleney.
Referee: Stefan Ebner (Austria).