Hoops facing daunting task in Czech Republic after coming out the wrong side of five-goal thriller in Tallaght
Shamrock Rovers 2 Mlada Boleslav 3
It's going to take a monumental effort, and at least two away goals, for Shamrock Rovers to avoid a second-round exit in Europe for the third time in four seasons after they were beaten and bettered by Czech side Mlada Boleslav tonight.
And while the Hoops, if they are honest today, can have few complaints about the result as the Czechs were the better side, inspired by their superb Sudanese-born, Australian-raised and now Czech-based striker Golgol Mebrahtu, who claimed two goals, Rovers are not yet out of contention or out of Europe after a late flurry threw up two goals.
Belvedere boy Graham Burke scored twice, the first a stunning, individualistic long-range effort early in the second half to level the scores at 1-1 and then a more simple, agricultural strike in added time to finish off the scoring a 3-2.
Mlada Boleslav have those three away goals in the bag and will expect to advance to round three, but if Rovers - for whom star man Trevor Clarke was subdued, due to a good man-marking job - can get more of the ball to Burke in the away leg, there's a chance of progress.
"We have a lifeline, we have two goals and we still have 90 minutes to go there," said manager Stephen Bradley.
"This is the standard you are at now and you can't concede three goals at home, against good teams you get punished. But that second goal from Graham keeps us in the tie, I am pleased with how the lads responded
"We need to score two but we score wherever we go, but we also need to defend better, it was disappointing to give away the third goal and we need to nail that for next week."
Upbeat before kick off, everyone at Rovers knew that, while Mlada Boleslav lacked the European pedigree of Czech outfits like Slavia Prague, they would be a step up in class from the Icelandic side which Rovers swatted away in the previous round.
And from early on it seemed like this would be a real battle for the Dublin club.
Rovers did have one advantage, though, as Swedish referee Bojan Pandzic made it clear from early on that he was not in the mood for histrionics or rough stuff from the away side, booking two Mlada Boleslav players in the first ten minutes, winger Tomas Prikryl shown a yellow for a rather theatrical dive from a challenge by Rovers keeper Tomer Chenchinski.
There was a real note of caution on 13 minutes when the Czechs nearly took the lead. A Ronan Finn foul on the edge of the box gifted Mlada Boleslav a free kick and Mebrahtu sent goalward a fierce drive, which had keeper Chehcninski beaten, but right back Madden was well-placed on the goal line to head away.
Rovers seemed to have weathered the storm and they began to creep into the game, having absorbed a lot of pressure. On 23 minutes a deep, speculative cross almost caught out the away side's keeper but the ball bounced onto the top of the net, and seconds later Gary Shaw could have done better when he was in on goal, firing straight at keeper Jakub Divis and soon after, Dave Webster went close with a headed effort.
But there was always that nagging feeling that the visitors could get control again and grab the away goal.
They did so 10 minutes before the break, on the break. Prikryl broke free to whip in a cross and Mebrahtu got in a powerful header to beat Chenchinski.
Rovers responded well, Burke levelling the scores two minutes after the break with that stunning long-range strike.
But just 16 minutes later, the Czechs were in front again, thanks to Mebrahtu, this time a close-range shot from a cross by Jan Chramosta which beat Chenchinski.
That man Chramosta came back to punish Rovers again on 88 minutes, claiming a goal of his own when he'd been set up by Prikryl, though Rovers had threatened before then, keeper Divis forced to save from Ronan Finn and Luke Byrne.
At 3-1 up, Mlada Boleslav were mentally packing up but Burke made sure Rovers retained an interest in the tie when he got on the end of a Dave Webster cross,
SHAMROCK ROVERS – Chenchinski; Madden, Lopes, Webster, Byrne; Miele (McAllister, 83), Connolly, Finn, Clarke; Burke; Shaw.
MLADA BOLESLAV – Divis; Pauschek, Cmovs, Stronati, Fleisman; Prikryl, Matejovsky (Magera, 89), Rada, Mares (Fabian, 73); Chramosta, Mebrahtu (Janos, 89).
REF – B Pandzic (Sweden)