MICHAEL O'NEILL feels that his Shamrock Rovers side are still very much in contention for progress in the Europa League after late, late drama last night.
Rovers, back in Europe for the first time since 2003, had a player called 'Christ' in their line-up according to the official teamsheet (though that was sadly just a typo in Chris Turner's name), but a man called Robert Bayly was their saviour in the end. Hailed as the son of God by the Hoops fans, Bayly's injury time goal earned the Hoops a 1-1 draw with Israeli side Bnei Yehuda.
Rovers leave Dublin on Monday bound for Tel Aviv for Thursday's second leg and the 1-1 draw of course means that Rovers have to at least score to have a chance of making the third round. However, O'Neill reckons that a mixture of his side's attacking prowess, some suspect defending by the Israelis and a very dodgy goalkeeper as Bnei Yehuda's last line of defence can see the Dubliners through.
"We're still in the tie," said O'Neill after his European debut as a manager, Rovers playing in front of 4,850 in Tallaght last night.
"If we had lost 1-0 we'd still have had a chance. As things stand we have to go to Israel and score, but we are more than capable of scoring.
"We will get opportunities in the second leg from set-pieces, there's no doubt about that, and the Israelis will be wary of that. On another night Gary Twigg would have scored and Tommy Stewart was excellent alongside him.
"At 1-0 the tie wouldn't have been dead but there's a lot of life left in it at 1-1. We stuck to the task in the second half. We had conceded the goal at a bad time in the game. We didn't play as high up the pitch as we'd have liked, we dropped off a bit after ten minutes or so and it was a poor goal for us to lose.
"But we reacted well to that and should have been level at half time. But we kept going right to the end and the equaliser was the least we deserved. We got some very creditable performances from a lot of the lads out there," added O'Neill.
"A 1-1 scoreline is not an easy one for them. I always felt we wouldn't win the tie outright at home. I felt we would need to score in Tel Aviv and I think we're capable of doing that."
It was a European debut for Tallaght Stadium, for O'Neill as manager and for five of the Rovers players but the Hoops did start brightly enough. They had enough possession in the opening period to show that Bnei Yehuda's keeper Dele Aiyenugba, who was in South Africa as part of the Nigerian squad, could have a difficult night -- Aiyenugba flapping at some early crosses and panicking his defence.
But the first real mistake was made by the home side as some poor Rovers defending gifted Beni Yehuda their goal on 28 minutes. Armenian-born striker Egiya Yavruyan was allowed time and space to shoot, his effort came off the legs of Rovers keeper Alan Mannus and the first to react was Israeli sub Omri Afek Haftke, who fired a shot past Mannus.
Rovers responded well, Craig Sives and Gary Twigg going close to netting the equaliser before the break while the second half saw some serious Rovers pressure. Twigg almost got the goal he deserved on 48 minutes but his overhead kick went out for a corner.
Rovers pressed and pressed but somehow the unreliable Aiyenugba managed to keep Rovers at bay, though he needed some help from his defenders at times, like when Shalev Menashe stopped an almost certain goal for James Chambers on 53 minutes.
Subs Billy Dennehy and Robbie Bayly were sprung from the bench and it was Bayly who came up with the goods in the second minute of added time, driving a shot past Aiyenugba after the away side failed to clear a Stewart cross, Bayly later admitting that the goal was the biggest in his career.
Rovers really are on their travels for the next while, as they're away to Galway United in the league on Sunday night and then head to the middle east on Monday morning, a long trek via Frankfurt meaning they won't arrive at their base in Tel Aviv until the early hours of Tuesday.
"We'll have time to acclimatise and train," says O'Neill. "We'll see what happens next week but as long as the game remains 0-0 it will be a nervous situation for them."