Belfast Telegraph

Europa League: Portadown not out yet, says Lecky

By Victor Gordon

Portadown 1 Qarabag 2: Richard Lecky summed it up perfectly when he said the return leg against Qarabag in Azerbaijan would be a tough mission for the Ports.

“They’re a class above Skonto Riga who we beat last week,” said the striker. “Add to that the heat of the Middle East and it’s a tall order, But we’re still in the tie and anything can happen. We don’t want this Europa League dream to end just yet.”

Certainly the Castlederg six-footer hit a dream goal to give the Ports the lead and lots of hope in the first-half. But two copy-cat goals by winger Alran Ismavilov in the closing stages of the second highlighted the superiority of the Asian side.

Qarabag had most of the possession in the first-half, but superb defending by the Ports back four restricted them to shots from outside the penalty area.

Portadown chances were few and far between until Lecky struck a brilliant opening goal.

It came just before the half-hour when he robbed a Qarabag defender, left another two for dead and lashed the ball home with his left foot from narrow angle — and he celebrated so heartily that Austrian Oliver Drachta flashed a yellow card.

The Azerbaijan side almost levelled five minutes later when Sadigov hit a grass-cutter of a free-kick from just outside the box, it skidded through a melee of players and clipped the outside of the post with David Miskelly well beaten.

Qarabag brought on substitute Raol Akiyev after the break and he made an instant impact when he headed over when he should have scored and then had one hoofed off the line by Darren Kelly when he rounded Miskelly.

But the slick-passing Qarabag were taking over, and those two spots of magic by Ismavilov (pictured) told the tale. Twice he skinned the Portadown left-side defence and netted two similar scores.

The first came on 66 minutes when he played a super one-two and slammed home from an acute angle.

And he repeated the dose six minutes from time when he rounded Ross Redman and cracked home from almost the same spot.

Portadown, though, refused to crack and they came within a whisker of an equaliser in injury time when Wesley Boyle swung in a corner from the left, Kelly met it full-blooded with his forehead and Farad Alive clawed it out brilliantly.

At the whistle, Ports manager Ronnie McFall said: “I thought we deserved a late score, but we’re still well in the frame and we have to be optimistic.”

PORTADOWN : Miskelly, Redman, O’Hara, Ramsay, Kelly, Boyle, Braniff, Mouncey, Teggart, Lecky, McCafferty, Subs: Armstrong, Mackle, Baker, Haire, Paget, McCullough, Coleman.

QARABAG: Valiyev, Qarayev, Hasimov, Medvedev, Sadigov, Mammadov, Imamaliyev, Sadigov, Anasovi, Ismayilov, Adamayi. Subs: Karimov, Haoiyev, Yusifov, Karlmov, Alyev, Nadirov, Iskandarov.

Referee: Oliver Drachta (Austria).

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