Fitzgerald keeps Swedes at bay

Carmarthen Town 0 AIK Solna 0
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The Independent Online

A story of remarkable defiance and goalkeeping brilliance emerged from a script that at the start of play demanded only a cynical commentary on football's determination to intrude further into the summer sojourn. On their European debut, Carmarthen Town's brave part-timers held one of Sweden's strongest sides ­ and that is an achievement deserving the highest praise.

AIK Solna, who only two seasons ago were competing in the Champions' League alongside Arsenal and Barcelona, could barely believe it as they finished without the first-leg victory they must have been banking on. For that they could point to a spirited and organised display of opposition, and the excellence of Robert Fitzgerald, a postman, in goal.

Some of Fitzgerald's work in the second half defied the laws of geometry. He's a big lad ­ indeed the manager Tomi Morgan believes he could go all the way were he to dispense with a few pounds ­ but he nevertheless had the dexterity to claw away Martin Aslund's close-in effort in the 65th minute. An astonishing double save followed, first tipping a Patric Andersson shot on to the post before diverting Luke Casserly's follow-up over the bar.

It mattered not that Welsh clubs have still to record a victory in this competition. To go to Stockholm for next week's second leg on level terms was success in itself for the part-timers. While AIK boast 10 Swedish titles, Carmarthen have been members of the League of Wales for only five years.

To add to their difficulties they were obliged to take this tie away from their Richmond Road ground because of development work. Then when club officials arrived at Aberystwyth yesterday they discovered that vandals had dug up a sizeable portion of the playing surface and it was a close-run thing to effect the necessary repairs in time.

Solna were always in command, as indeed they should have been with the gap in class, but besides defending with absolute heart and application Carmarthen were also able to carve out a handful of opportunities, with Shaun Chapple twice going close.

In the first half Wayne Jones cleared off the line and Aslund missed badly. At the start of the second half Aslund turned skilfully only to find the 21-year-old goalkeeper getting down well to his shot.

The appearance of the substitute Dylan McPhee almost worked against Carmarthen as the ball ricocheted off his shins but again Fitzgerald was there to the rescue. In injury time Aslund struck a post, but a goal then would have been cruel in the extreme on Morgan's team.

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