Shelbourne's braves left heartbroken
SHELBOURNE 3 GLASGOW RANGERS 5 DERMOT KEELY'S Shelbourne were the bravehearts on a rainy night in Tranmere as a sensational eight goal UEFA Cup thriller turned against them. Rangers may have scrambled out as 5-3 winners but for a vast stretch of this memorable game, they were humbled by the gallant Dubliners.Shameful memories of the havoc wreaked by Rangers fans on the streets of Dublin in 1984 had forced Shelbourne to move this match out of Tolka Park and take it across the Irish Sea to Tranmere's Prenton Park.
But the gallant Reds made us remember that fateful night 14 years ago for an altogether different reason last night as his team threatened to tear Dick Advocaat's multi-million pound side apart in the same way that Bohemians had done.
Indeed, as a Sergio Porrini own-goal and two remarkable strikes from Mark Rutherford and Pat Morley drove Shelbourne into an incredible 3-0 lead after 48 minutes, it seemed as if Bohs 3-2 victory was about to be surpassed in the most sensational style.
But Rangers, regretting that they had not pressed new £5.5m signing Andrei Kancheslkis into action, dragged themselves back off the floor to fashion one of the most remarkable fightbacks in UEFA Cup history with five goals, the last four inside 11 minutes.
Shelbourne's dream of on-field compensation for the financial hammering they have taken from a game which drew only 6000 fans were shattered.
But Keely, choked up with pride, would only praise his men, not bury them, after this late landslide. ``We could not have asked for one more ounce of energy from the lads. They were all heroes,'' he said.
Many of Shelbourne's 600 fans, whose buses had been held-up as police sorted out a cantankerous horde of Rangers fans on the pavement outside a pub, missed their side's sensational opening goal after seven minutes.
Porrini's slapstick dive and eight yard header past his own goalkeeper Antti Niemi happened right under the noses of 3000 Glaswegians, who were stunned into instant silence.
Though born out of error, when their Dutch new boy Giovanni Van Bronckhurst tamely surrendered the ball to Dessie Baker around halfway.
Baker, hero of the Irish Under 20 team which finished third in the World Cup last summer, skipped to the end line and whipped a cross back across goal which the Italian met at full length in a blatant bid to enter the annals of all-time great own goals.
To be fair, Porrini was a powerful creative influence for Rangers as the Reds, with Pat Morley ploughing a lonely furrow in attack, were forced onto the back foot.
It's a tribute to the tireless covering of auxiliary midfielder Liam Kelly and his four colleagues arrayed across the park that Rangers got precious few chances to stretch Shelbourne's sturdy back four.
Yes, the Gers had a handful of chances. But they failed to exert sustained pressure on Alan Gough, with the goalkeeper forced into spectacular action only once when World Cup striker Gordon Durie cut back inside Dave Smith to blast a tight angled shot which Gough palmed away.
Occasionally, Shelbourne threatened to add to the embarrassment of Rangers now Dutch manager Dick Advocaat when Baker and Rutherford managed to fashion a little space for themselves on the two flanks.
Baker forced Shelbourne's first corner in the 42nd minute and as Tony McCarthy loped towards the far post, few in the massed blue ranks could have imagined exactly how dismal their evening was about to get.
The powerful UCD graduate who used to ply his trade with Millwall in the English League sparked a ferocious melee with his downward header and Rutherford was on hand to crash home Shelbourne's second goal from the edge of the six yard box.
Advocaat boosted the value of his players on the pitch to nearly £30m when he sent on Jonathan Johansson and his £4.2m new boy Gabriel Amato at half time.
Clearly, the Rangers boss regretted his decision to underestimate Shelbourne by favouring young debutant David Graham ahead of the Argentinian.
Amato made an instant impact, carving through the left flank of the Reds defence to set up Johansson for a rasping shot which Gough saved with a truly sensational combination of agility and reflexes.
We expected Shelbourne to funnel back and cling-on for dear life. Instead they shocked Rangers once again with a terrific third goal, the tireless midfield lynchpin Pat Fenlon sending Morley clear with a sweet through ball which the 31-year-old Corkman clipped over the advancing Niemi with near-arrogance.
Rangers rose from this stunning bodyblow for German Jorg Albertz to slot home a penalty after a handball which earned McCarthy a booking.
Gough had no chance with the spot kick nor the gut-wrenching glut of four further goals in 11 minutes which were to restore Scottish voices and leave Rangers singing in the rain.
Amato whipped in his team's second off the crossbar as Shels claims that the ball had not crossed the line waved away by the referee after 73 minutes.
Less than 60 seconds later, Van Bronckhurst struck with a sweetly-taken equaliser
Amato cemented a love-at-first-sight relationship with his fans by heading home the fourth after Johansson stretched the Shels right flank to breaking point with a penetrative run and cross.
Albertz completed the dramatic about-face with his 84th minute penalty after McCarthy was once again pulled-up for handling under pressure.
SHELBOURNE Gough; Smith, McCarthy, Scully, D Geoghegan; Baker, Fitzgerald, Kelly (Sheridan 78), Fenlon, Rutherford; Morley.
RANGERS Niemi; Porrini, Amoruso, Petric, Van Bronckhurst; Gattuso (Johansson 45), B Ferguson, J Thern, J Albertz; Graham (Amato 45), Durie.
REF V Anghelinei (Rom).