By Damian Mullan
O’Hare, Clanachan, Flynn, Gaston, McAuley, Beatty, McCoosh, Hamill, Tolan, McAllister, Gorman. Subs not used: Curran, Haveron, Johnston, McCormick.
Helton, Bilro (c), Gabriel, (sub Maciel 53), Gomes, Ludemar, Douala,(sub Alhandra), Manuel, Duarte, Caico, (sub Gameiro), Paulo, Edson. Subs not used: Quievreux, Freddy, Laran Jeiro.
Referee: Dimitrov Dimitar, Bulgaria.
Pitch: perfect; weather: hot and sunny;
Goals: Gaston, (9 mins) 1-0; Joao Manuel (42 mins) 1-1; Hamill, (46 mins), 2-1;
Bookings: Paulo Duarte (52 mins); Tony Gorman (71 mins);
Sent off: Maciel, (56 mins)
Times Sport Man of the Match: Pat McAllister (Coleraine): inspirational.
“IN terms of personal achievement, it’s as good a result as I’ve ever been involved in.”
The words of well-travelled midfielder Tony Gorman in the immediate aftermath of Coleraine’s 2-1 victory over UD Leiria perfectly summed up the magnitude of the Bannsiders’ achievement on a famous night for the club.
Given little hope by many experts before the game, Marty Quinn’s gutsy troops tore up the script to produce a performance of passion and discipline which delighted a vociferous and appreciative home crowd.
From numbers one to eleven, every man jack did his job, frustrating their much-vaunted opponents at every turn to set up an intruiging second leg in Portugal in less than two weeks’ time.
It helped that they got the start they wanted, scoring an early goal, but the players displayed great depths of character to recover after conceding a sloppy equaliser to again take the lead - and hold on to it.
The early goal came in the ninth minute from a corner, something that the players and management had targeted as a way of breaking down their opponents.
Stephen Beatty swung a corner in from the left and when Portugese goalkeeper Helton missed it the ever dependable Paul Gaston swooped to fire high into the net from six yards.
It was scarcely believable but equally unbelievable was Gaston’s skills at the other end less than 60 seconds later when he perfectly judged his tackle to deny Leiria an equalising opportunity.
Leiria went close again soon after when Ludemar, their most dangerous player on the night, escaped the clutches of marker Gerry Flynn and fired a low right foot shot towards goal but Coleraine keeper Davy O’Hare saved superbly with his outstretched foot.
O’Hare didn’t look so comfortable on the half hour when Gabriel’s shot had him scrambling across goal but he redeemed himself five minutes later when he was quick off his line to deny Ludemar again.
But the keeper was powerless to prevent Leiria equalising in the 42nd minute. A corner wasn’t properly cleared and Joao Manuel reacted quickest to nip in and pop the ball into the Coleraine net.
Fans must have feared the worst but this current Coleraine side are made of stern stuff. A minute into added time at the end of the half Stephen Beatty curled in an inviting free-kick from the left and Rory Hamill brilliantly headed the ball low into the net to reclaim his team’s advantage at the break.
Leiria introduced star striker, Brazilian Maciel, eight minutes into the second period but his night was short-lived.
Three minutes after being introduced he was off again - dismissed by the referee after he appeared to raise an arm towards Coleraine defender Gerry Flynn.
Down to 10 men, Leiria maintained their ploy of trying to pass their way through the home defence, a defence consisting of 11 Coleraine players led superbly by their never-say-die skipper Pat McAllister.
A succession of free-kicks, many just outside the penalty area, offered the visitors their best chance of parity but Coleraine, and keeper Davy O’Hare, stood firm.
Ludemar should have score eight minutes from the end when he found himself unmarked on the six yard box but he somehow managed to head wide Bilro’s pinpoint cross from the right.
With that header went UD Leiria’s best chance of salvaging something from the night - a night that belonged to Coleraine and one that will live long in the memories of all those that were there to enjoy it.