Baraclough on Euro mission to break Molde
WITH only a 100-yard walk from their seaside hotel to the 12,000-seater stadium in Molde, Sligo Rovers' palyers will tonight make one of the shortest trips possible in European football.
After that journey is made, it's just a question of whether Ian Baraclough's side can make a massive, massive leap by knocking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Molde out of the Champions League (6.0 Irish time) and advance to the third qualifying round of the competition and a probable clash with Legia Warsaw.
Their most recent European campaigns have seen Sligo play in dusty towns and cities behind the old Iron Curtain in Albania, Ukraine and Slovakia, so it's a change for the Bit O'Red to land in a picture-postcard affluent (and achingly expensive) town like Molde, where the club's stadium provides a stunning location for a football game.
Perma-smiling locals are more likely to hand the Irish visitors ice cream and cold drinks than land outside Sligo's team base with 'Welcome To Hell' banners – in fact the city-centre bar run by the Molde supporters club has already done their bit for recession-hit Sligo fans by sportingly reducing the eye-watering prices of their beer.
But there's no doubting the seriousness of tonight's tie – managers like Solskjaer, and his club here in his native Norway, are desperately ambitious and failure to get past Sligo would be seen as a massive blow to Molde, a club who have the resources to spend €2m on a player in recent weeks.
The odds are all stacked against Rovers, who trail 1-0 from the first leg.
Some of their older fans are aware that Sligo have never managed an away win in Europe while Irish clubs have come back with one draw and five defeats from their last six visits to Norway. Yet the Sligo camp remain confident that they can pull something out of the bag.
"It's very much in our grasp and we are more than capable of doing it. Obviously it's a tough task, we're a goal down away from home, but if we can get the early goal we can rattle them," Sligo's veteran 'keeper Gary Rogers said ahead of his 15th European appearance tonight
"The tie is still alive and if we can cut out errors at the back, we will have a great chance of getting through.
"A lot of the time Irish teams and players underestimate themselves, they build up the opposition to be better than they are.
"Molde are a good side, have massive resources compared to us and if they were in our league they'd win the title, but this is a cup game, it's 90 minutes and we have a chance.
"I have played against decent teams in Europe, Steaua Bucharest with St Pat's were probably the best side I played against and they are a step above Molde. It's there for us, we just have to go and take it. If you don't believe you can do it, you never will. We have to believe in ourselves and our ability.
"I know we are more than capable of playing at this level and if we go out there in a positive frame of mind, I feel we can get the result we need," added the Meath native.
Baraclough has made minor changes to his squad, with recent injury victims Raff Cretaro and Danny North included after they were unavailable for the home leg, as the Sligo boss is aware that his side need to push for a goal. "We need to score a goal to have a chance of winning the tie. We will approach it in a positive mindset, we will create chances," Baraclough said at a sparsely-attended press conference in the Molde stadium before last night's training session.
"Last week was all about making sure we can go to Norway still in the tie, and in the main we restricted them to one or two chances. We can go a little bit more adventurous in the second leg.
"They have a bit in reserve as well, they have a fantastic squad to choose from, they came last week with a mindset where they didn't want to give too much away and maybe now the onus is on them to put the tie beyond us.
"Their fans will expect their team to roll us over, having done the hard work – in their eyes – in Sligo. But we aim to upset them."
It's unlikely that North or Cretaro will start but Baraclough is aware of the importance of his bench as attacker Kieran Djilali made a big impact when coming on as a sub in the home leg.