For only the second time in the club history, Cork City won both legs of a European round. The previous time they did that was back in 2004 when defeating Malmo of Sweden and the manager that day, Pat Dolan, was in attendance tonight as part of a capacity crowd.
The home side were made to work for a victory against a Levadia Tallinn side that many saw as a pushover. Yet the home side went in behind on the interval with goals from Evgenii Kobzar and Nikita Andreev cancelling out Sheppard’s headed goal.
The second half belonged to Sean Maguire, who beat Dan Murray’s long standing European record as a result of his hat-trick. The Cork City fans will have two more home games to watch the striker before he departs these shores for Preston North End but on this evidence, he wouldn’t surprise anybody if he hit the ground running in the Championship.
Cork City had Greg Bolger as captain owing to Alan Bennett failing a late fitness test, but it didn’t affect the home side with John Caulfield keeping faith with the same starting 11 that won 2-0 in Parnu.
The visitors made two changes with Artom Atrjunin and Nikita Andreev coming into the starting team in place of Pavel Marin and the suspended Luc Tabi Manga.
The opening exchanges were played mainly in the visitors half with City going close on a few occasions with Preston bound Kevin O’Connor firing wide from distance while on 11 minutes Gary Buckley hit a header of the post following a Karl Sheppard cross.
The best chance fell to Sheppard but the winger fell at the crucial moment as he lined up an O’Connor cross, allowing Levadia to clear the danger.
Against the run of play, the opposition who were as big as 16/1 before the game took the lead. The ball was played down the left flank before Kobzar cut in and benefited from Conor McCormack giving him space to fire a low shot into the bottom corner. The near-sell out crowd was stunned.
City were lethargic for long periods of the first half, something one couldn’t say about City so far this season, and they failied to really trouble the opposition despite having the lion’s share of possession.
The equaliser arrived for the home side though on 28 minutes when Kevin O’Connor was fouled by Igor Dudarev. From the resulting free kick, Greg Bolger lofted the ball into the box and Sheppard headed it backwards into the bottom corner.
The referee Gunnar Jarl Jonsson was the centre of attention minutes later when a clear handball by Kobzar was missed in the build up to the next goal. A long ball over the top on 33 minutes was controlled by Kobzar with his hand and he turned Ryan Delaney before whipping in a superb cross that was headed home by Andreev.
City pressed a few times for an equaliser but it never looked like arriving as the visitors finished the half one ahead.
The second half was only 35 seconds old when Maguire finished from close range following Sheppard’s cross for his 20th goal of the season.
City got the upper hand on proceeding not long afterwards with both Gearóid Morrissey and Bolger starting to win more possession allowing Maguire to run at the Levadia defence.
The striker is in the form of his life and he capped off a superb evening by breaking the record for the most goals in Europe by a City player when notching his second of the night and fifth of his career on 86 minutes, finishing off a superb move after a dink in the box.
Yet the striker wasn’t finished with his goals and claimed the match ball on 90 minutes when heading home from close range following Shane Griffin’s corner.
Next up for Cork City in Europe is a home tie against AIK Larneca next Thursday evening in what is sure to be another full house at Turner's Cross.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Jimmy Keohane, Ryan Delaney, Conor McCormack, Kevin O’Connor; Greg Bolger (Achille Campion 84), Gearóid Morrissey; Karl Sheppard (Steven Beattie 68), Gary Buckley, Stephen Dooley (Shane Griffin 78); Sean Maguire.
Subs not used: Alan Smith, Connor Ellis, Conor McCarthy, Sean O’Mahony.
Yellow Cards: Sheppard (8), Bolger (52).
Levadia Tallinn: Sergei Lepmets; Igor Dudarev, Maksim Podholijuzin, Artom Atrjunin, Aime Gando; Mark Oliver Roosnupp; Rimo Hunt, Joao Morelli, Evgenii Kobzar (Pavel Marin 60); Nikita Andreev (Ingemar Teever 86).
Subs not used: Andreas Raudsepp, Priit Pikker, Cristofer Kuusma, Kaspar Mutso.
Yellow Cards: Dudarev (27).
Referee: Gunnar Jarl Jonsson.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Sean Maguire (Cork City).