A 2-1 win in Sweden seemed a great result to take into last Thursday's return leg, but then disaster struck. Sporting conceded an 89th-minute goal to send the tie into extra time, where Halmstad scored again and eventually secured a 3-2 win on the night to advance on away goals.
The 2004/05 UEFA Cup finalists were out at the first hurdle, and fans at the Estádio José Alvalade demanded coach José Peseiro's head. Such calls intensified after Sunday's miserable 3-0 league defeat at FC Paços de Ferreira.
Peseiro has felt supporters' disapproval ever since the home game against Vitória FC on 25 September. In a bid to cling on to a 1-0 lead in the latter stages, Peseiro brought on defender Beto for striker Liedson, much to the anger of both the Brazilian and the crowd.
The coach refused to accept the criticism, however, saying: "I have credit left with Sporting - I am not in debt to the club." Yet, with Peseiro's team missing out on the UEFA Cup group stage on the back of their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round elimination by Udinese Calcio, the situation may have changed. Not least because the group stage could have earned them around €4m.
Victory against promoted Paços de Ferreira could have repaired some of the damage and taken Sporting top of the table, but it was not to be. Indeed, the defeat was all the more puzzling for Peseiro's tactics, including fielding centre-back Anderson Polga at left-back.
'I am responsible'
"I am responsible for this defeat as I tried a new system for this match," said the 45-year-old trainer. "We wanted to control the game and keep possession in order to relieve some of the pressure and stress that the team are under. The strategy failed and we lost 3-0."
Sporting supporters made no secret of their feelings, unfurling in the final moments of the game a huge banner for the attention of players and coach alike, which read: "You are a disgrace." Fans then gathered outside the stadium to protest against Peseiro. The next few weeks may prove to be more difficult still for the beleaguered coach.
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