Clarke pulls out stops to keep battling Sligo right in the mix
VORSKLA POLTAVA 0
SLIGO ROVERS 0
Sligo Rovers have given themselves a great chance of making the next round after a brilliant performance in the Ukraine last night.
The Bit O' Red held the highly regarded Vorskla Poltava to a scoreless draw after making a gruelling 20-hour trek to east Ukraine.
In fact, Rovers were the better team on the night, despite the 28 degree heat, and had two great chances to claim an invaluable away goal in the second half.
The first fell to the tireless Alan Kirby after goalkeeper Sergiy Velychko could only flick Raffaele Cretaro's cross into his path, but Kirby's shot hit the crossbar. Cretaro then cleverly got in behind the Vorskla defence to capitalise on some slack play, but narrowly missed the top corner.
Rovers did, however, have goalkeeper Brendan Clarke to thank for keeping them in the game in the opening half. With Roman Bezus pulling the strings in the playmaker's role, Rovers struggled to get to grips with the hosts early on and Clarke pulled off outstanding saves to deny the attacker and Ahmed Januzi.
He also twice denied Armend Dallku, who crept in behind Conor Powell early on, in the full-back's first start for the club. Powell was outstanding for the remainder of the match, though, and, with McGuinness, Gavin Peers and Alan Keane all excelling once again, Rovers settled.
Indeed, McGuinness had the ball in the net from a Joseph Ndo corner on 31 minutes, but was adjudged to have kicked the ball from Velychko's hands.
In the second half, Peers also found the net from another delivery from the outstanding Ndo, but again Lithuanian referee Geminas Mazieka spotted a foul.
Rovers' boss Paul Cook changed his team for the first time in six games for the match, with Powell coming in at left-back, Aaron Greene pushing up to left midfield, and Eoin Doyle held back in reserve. It worked brilliantly thanks to the efforts of lone striker Matthew Blinkhorn, who won more than his fair share of headers and free-kicks to relieve the pressure after the home side started well.
Cretaro flashed a shot across goal, and Ndo also missed the target in Rovers' best first half chances, but they opened their hosts up after the restart, with Cretaro finding space down the right and substitute Doyle's movement causing the Vorskla defence numerous problems.