Soccer

Derry City into next round of Europa Conference League

Cian Kavanagh (left) was on target for Derry City in Finland
Cian Kavanagh (left) was on target for Derry City in Finland Cian Kavanagh (left) was on target for Derry City in Finland

Uefa Europa Conference League second qualifying round, second leg

KuPS 3 Derry City 3 (agg: 4-5)

DERRY City boss Ruaidhri Higgins admitted that seeing his side reach the third qualifying round of the Europa Conference League was one of the proudest moments in his short managerial career.

Higgins watched his side come from behind twice to seal a 3-3 draw and a memorable 5-4 aggregate win over KuPS.

“That result was special and is up there as one of my best moments in management,” he insisted.

“We played well and I felt over the two legs we deserved to go through. The boys were fantastic and showed great courage and desire to make history for the club.”

Now the Brandywell men have to make the long trek to Kazakhstan after Tobol shocked Swiss giants Basel.

The Finnish side made four changes to their team which suffered the first-leg loss with Collins Sichenje, Clinton Antwi, Ibrahim Cissé and Anton Popvitch all coming into the starting line-up.

Read more: Rough night in Europe for Irish quartet

City they started with a very attacking side, with Paul McMullan, who shone off the bench in the second half last week, replacing Brandon Kavanagh, who was named as a substitute.

First-leg match-winner Cian Kavanagh started up front in place of Jamie McGonigle, who didn’t travel to Finland as his partner was due to give birth to his first child.

Just before kick-off City boss Ruaidhri Higgins raced over to the small dedicated travelling support to show his appreciation.

The Finland side began the game on the front foot with left-back Collins Sichenje, who missed last week’s first leg because of a visa problem, going close, his 10th-minute free-kick flashing just wide.

Although Derry were on the back foot in the early stages, they did take the lead three minutes later as Paul McMullan’s lovely right-wing centre found Cian Kavanagh and the big striker made no mistake at the back post, heading home from close range.

That goal certainly settled Derry down and they went close to increasing their lead twice in quick succession but full-backs Ronan Boyce and Ben Doherty were unfortunate with their efforts.

KuPS levelled on 24 minutes as Anton Popovitch’s curling left-wing corner into the six-yard box found Jasse Tuominen, who headed home into the empty net, after Brian Maher had failed to collect the corner.

To make matters worse for the Foylesiders, captain Patrick McEleney had to be replaced by Sadou Diallo, after he seemed to injure his thigh..

Both sides kept possession for long periods in the first half, but Derry suffered a sucker blow right on the stroke of half-time as KuPS drew level in the tie.

Saku Savolainen’s close-range shot took a deflection on its way past Maher to give the home side the lead on the night.

CIty regained the lead in the tie on 55 minutes when Sadou Diallo netted his second goal in the competition this season, the midfielder blasting home from 20 yards, after his initial shot had been blocked.

KuPS regained the lead moments later when a slick passing move ended with Savolainen racing onto the through ball before calmly slotting home past Maher.

Like so many times in the tie, it was the team who just conceded who quickly got the upper hand and Derry should have levelled things on 67 minutes as a slick passing move ended with Ben Doherty’s left-wing cross finding Cian Kavanagh, whose close range downward header was somehow saved by a diving Kreidl.

Derry deservedly equalised two minutes later as Diallo’s stunning centre from the right found Michael Duffy, who ghosted in at the back post to powerfully head home into Kreidl’s bottom right hand corner.

The visitors completely controlled things after Duffy’s all-important goal, this despite the home side having a lot of possession but they never troubled Maher.