There was a hint of the inevitable about the evening. Fir Park was packed with over 9,000 home fans creating a charged atmosphere and urging the team to push forward. There was a huge prize at stake and we dominated the match for long spells. Yet, we came away with no goals and miss the big prize.
The only change in the line up from the first leg was the introduction of Blackman who replaced the suspended Jennings. We kicked off facing the South Stand which, for a pleasant change, had a healthy crowd in claret and amber. Within a minute we had a corner, just the start to get the atmosphere on the rise.
In the second minute Sutton had us on our feet when he was released in the left side of the box and hooked his effort on goal. It hit the side net but few realised that it was a signal of what was to come for the rest of the evening. Humphrey had a great chance close in on the right but he rushed his shot and mistimed the strike. Murphy looked threatening every time he collected the ball on the left and almost scored when he lobbed the stranded ‘keeper from the angle of the box but he also missed the target.
Hammell's free kick hits the wall
Odense looked confident when in possession and we had a few anxious moments before they scored. Their players are technically better than ours but they were troubled by our energy. Utaka got on the end of a scrap from Ruud’s corner after half an hour and he managed to fire low through a crowed box to open the scoring.
The crowd rose to the challenge and urged the players on to get back into the game. Blackman did well as a target man and many of our attacks started with his controlling long balls from the back line. The referee made clear that he would not tolerate much in the way of contact and though we had our share of yellows, we were happy to take the many free kicks that came our way. Unfortunately we made little use of them. Hateley had a shot for 25 yards but he elected for the low drove and Carroll saved.
The second half started with a big shout for a penalty when Sutton was hampered in the box but there was no award. We put Odense under severe pressure but despite Humphrey delivering lots of telling crosses their defence stood firm.
Lasley had a run along the line but his chip found a defender. Blackman found space on the six yard line and had only the Carroll to beat. He set himself, choose to head the ball and with the Cooper Stand on its feet expecting a goal – he sent it straight into the ‘keeper’s arms. Signs of fatigue started to show, the players put a huge effort into the game. Blackman had another half chance but the ball seemed to get tangled under him.
Ruud left the field after a second yellow and with five minutes left Christensen handled in the box. He also earned a second yellow and Odense were reduced to nine. After an age with plenty of time wasting, Murphy stroked the spot kick to Carroll’s left and struck the post. By then it was clear that we could play all night and still not score.
The crowd stayed to thank the players for their efforts and the six game run in the Europa League. Unfortunately, effort and enthusiasm are not enough to win matches at this level. The skill and guile needed to break down a determined defence were missing but we’re not the only Scottish team with that problem.
There’s always next year!