By Denis Hurley for the Evening Echo
Cork City will go into the second leg against Legia Warsaw with a single goal disadvantage after a 1-0 defeat tonight at Turner’s Cross. The return game will be played next Tuesday at 8pm Irish time, 9pm local time at the Legia Warsaw Municipal Stadium.
There were chances for City to take the lead in both halves. Unfortunately, those opportunities weren’t availed of, while Michael Kucharczyk struck a 30-yard goal in the 79th minute to give Legia Warsaw an away goal to take back ahead of next Tuesday’s second leg in Poland.
City played very well and defended stoutly in the second half, even when Legia began to exert more control on the game. By and large, the visitors were restricted to shots from distance but it was from one of those that the only goal came.
When they won a free kick inside the City half on the right, players went forward in the expectation of a delivery goalwards by Krzysztof Maczynski but he was then able to sidefoot to left wing back Kucharczyk, whose shot curled to the top corner, beyond the dive of Peter Cherrie.
While City pressed for an equaliser thereafter, they couldn’t fashion a clear-cut opportunity – there was one cross that the impressive Garry Buckley almost got his head to – and the task is sizeable for the second leg.
There were four changes from Friday night’s scoreless draw with Shamrock Rovers. With Mark McNulty having been unable to shake off an ankle injury, Cherrie came in in goal, while Delaney made his first competitive start since re-joining the club, replacing Alan Bennett in defence.
For the first time since he re-signed, Graham Cummins didn’t start a major game for which he was available. Karl Sheppard moved to take the striker’s role. Barry McNamee and Jimmy Keohane were included on the wings, with Kieran Sadlier also missing out.
While Legia had travelled without some of their big names, including former Arsenal striker Eduardo and Poland World Cup duo Michael Pazdan and Artur Jędrzejczyk, they didn’t lack for quality or experience, but City weren’t cowed in the opening stages.
Early on, Inaki Astiz had to head away a Keohane cross intended for Sheppard, while McNamee had a great chance when he intercepted a loose Mateusz Wieteska pass but, under pressure from William Remy, he fluffed his shot and the ball was cleared for a corner.
Following McNamee’s delivery of that from the left, Gearóid Morrissey shot well over and in the next play the midfielder’s low cross was well dummied by Sheppard in the hope that Keohane could reach the ball. He didn’t and though there were shouts for a penalty as he fell, none was forthcoming from the Romanian referee Radu Marian Petrescu.
Though on the back foot, Legia never looked panicked and they went close as Sebastian Szymanski shot over from a free kick and he had a better chance immediately after when Marko Vesovic’s cross found its way to him but again he missed the target, this time from inside the area.
After the half-hour, a good McCormack challenge was needed to stop Szymanski getting on the end of a one-two with Krzystof Maczynski on the edge of the area, while McLoughlin denied Vesovic.
Shortly before half-time, there was a let-off as McCormack appeared to block a Kasper Hamalainen cross with his hand, but again the referee opted against awarding a penalty.
The goalless situation still pertained at the break and early in the second half City pushed again. Buckley showed great endeavour to win a corner, which McNamee sent over. Delaney rose but couldn’t direct his header and Conor McCarthy had a follow-up shot but that was blocked.
The loss of Morrissey to a groin injury meant a reshuffle as Cummins came on with Sheppard moving to the wing and Keohane dropping to midfield. The striker had a great chance almost immediately after McNamee’s header gave him a sight of goal but he couldn’t get himself set and his shot wasn’t too challenging for Legia goalkeeper Arkadiusz Malarz.
Steven Beattie, on as McCarthy was forced to retire, also had a shot, his low effort not far wide, but at the other end Legia’s Kasper Hamalainen should have done better with a volley following a corner.
They had begun to establish a dominance on possession but the City defence remained difficult to break down and the efforts on goal were all from outside the box. Unfortunately for City, Kucharczyk managed to place his perfectly, ensuring that the visitors took the win, giving them a foot in the next round.
Referee: Radu Petrescu (Romania).