John Russell says his Sligo Rovers side will travel to England this week full of confidence after their ‘huge’ win over Shelbourne at The Showgrounds on Saturday evening.
Rovers take on Bala Town on Thursday at Park Hall in Oswestry, and Saturday’s 3-1 win over Damien Duff’s side will give them a big ‘spring in their step’ ahead of that huge game.
The Rovers boss said: “Huge night for us. I thought our mentality was spot on. We spoke about it before the game.
"We lost the previous two meetings so to go and win in front of our home fans was magic. I thought the goals were brilliant, we probably rode our luck in the second half but over the 90 minutes we probably deserved it.”
Rovers went behind after 5 minutes when Brian McManus’ effort took a somewhat fortunate deflection before trickling past McGinty.
Russell said: “You don’t want to concede early in games. In fairness, the last two home games, we’ve won and started on the front foot.
"It was unfortunate, O’Driscoll on the right side has shanked a pass into the middle and it’s broke, and it was a deflection. It was a scrappy goal. These things happen. We responded.”
While Russell admits it took his side some time to get settled into the game, they did and when they did settle, they turned on the style scoring two superb goals to go into half-time 2-1 up.
“We spoke at half-time, it was a brilliant reaction from the players. It probably took us 10 or 15 minutes to get to grips with the game. I felt we got very strong as the half wore on. To go in 2-1 up was brilliant.”
Shels had three potential goals not counted in the second-half, which Russell accepts was slightly fortunate.
“In the second half you want to come out and try and control the game, I felt for the first five or ten minutes we were getting the ball wide and causing problems with Karl (O’Sullivan) and Will (Fitzgerald).
“In fairness to Shelbourne, they’re a good team. They’ve beaten us twice already this year. When they brought on Dan Carr and Sean Boyd, I felt they were causing us problems.
"We sat back a little deeper, it was hard to defend our box. We were always a threat on the break, we got a bit of luck with one or two of the offside calls.
"That one that went through the keeper, you're thinking ‘it’s 2-2’ but thankfully the flag went up, you get that bit of luck and I thought we deserved it. Sometimes you’re thanking the Gods.
"The officials are there and they make the decisions and thankfully we went onto win the game.”
Both of Rovers’ goals in the first half came on the counter-attack. The second goal in particular was one that we will all want to watch over and over again.
"That second goal, the ball from Paddy Kirk, Aidan Keena, it’s set back, the combination between himself and Max.
"They caused real problems for Shelbourne tonight, I think they’re going to get stronger and stronger as the weeks go on.”
A penalty in injury time took pressure off Rovers as they were having to defend wave after wave of attacks from Shels.
Keena calmly slotted the penalty past Clarke to make sure of all three points.
“There was only a couple of minutes left. Frank (Liivak) made his debut and I thought he did really well.
"He came in and off the line for that penalty, drove inside, played a nice slip pass into Will, another player who played brilliantly all night in and out of possession that won the penalty for us. That goal machine stepped up to get his second of the game.”
Goalkeeper Ed McGinty is attracting a lot of interest, with the club receiving a bid from an English club for their netminder last week.
While Russell wouldn’t be drawn on any speculation linking him with a move away, he does believe McGinty is taking his performances to another level.
“At the moment, Ed is the best keeper in the league. He has been for the last year or two. James Talbot (of Bohs) has been called into the Irish senior team and sometimes we’re down here thinking ‘how has Ed not been involved at that level’.
"For me, there’s always going to be interest, he’s a top keeper, his age, his ability, I think he’s improved in the last few weeks, his game is going to another level.
"As a club, we’re going to have to see what happens over the next few weeks. When you’re players are playing well, even the outfield players, you’re going to have interest, there’s a spotlight on this league.
"For us, we’re delighted Ed is with us at the moment, and we’ll see what happens.”
Keena’s penalty brought his tally to 11 for the year. The Mullingar native has been one of the stand-out performers for Rovers this season, and even with that Russell believes there is even better to come.
“I’ve said it before, with Aidan there’s more in him. he’s working really hard. He can take his game to another level. .
"His work-rate off the ball, when he gets the ball he’s such a threat. He can play through the middle as a 9, I would have seen glimpses of him in training and I felt him and Max would play together and that’s why I’ve gone with them together the last few weeks.
"They’re striking up a really good partnership. You could see in the first game against Finn Harps, Max it was his first game in a while, he was off a touch.
“He was nearly in to score a goal but the combination play was just off but you could see tonight.”
That win takes Rovers nicely into their Europa Conference League First Round qualifying game against their Welsh opposition. Momentum is on their side.
“It’s huge (the win). Anyone would tell you, in football it’s all about momentum. We’re on a good little run now.
"The players are working extremely hard in training, for them to get the rewards tonight gives them a bit of a spring in their step.”