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Shamrock Rovers' Champions League dream all but over after defeat to Ludogorets

Ludogorets 3 Shamrock Rovers 0

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Rory Gaffney of Shamrock Rovers in action against Cicinho of Ludogorets

Rory Gaffney of Shamrock Rovers in action against Cicinho of Ludogorets

Rory Gaffney of Shamrock Rovers in action against Cicinho of Ludogorets

Beaten in Bulgaria, Shamrock Rovers now need the biggest of miracles in Dublin next week if they are to retain an interest in the Champions League for this season.

And a sloppy injury-time goal for Ludogorets, scored by sub Igor Thiago, effectively means that the Champions League is now over, that deflected goal coming after a very positive second half from the Hoops and killing off any faint hopes of a Rovers revival.

At half time, the idea of progress for Rovers seemed like a ridiculous prospect as the Hoops had been completely outplayed, were 2-0 down at the break with goals from Pieros Sotiriou and could have been 3-0 down only for a stunning save from keeper Alan Mannus late on in the half, the main question being how many more Ludogporets would score.

But a well-drilled Rovers regrouped, kept their shape and were very solid in the second 45 minutes, impressive in possession without a goal threat while sub Graham Burke caused some moments of nervousness for the home side.

With just over 90 minutes played, that Rovers revival had hinted that Ludogorets could be vulnerable in the second leg and a 2-0 deficit was difficult to overturn though not impossible, but Thiago popped up in added time to fire home and more or less seal a place in the third round for Ludogorets.

Rovers had managed to get to the 26-minute mark without conceding, despite long spells of pressure by the home side in Razgrad, but the sheer class of Ludogorets was bound to tell.

And they did that on 26 minutes, a cross by Brazilian Cauly finished off by Cyprus international Sotiriou, who won his battle with Sean Hoare. And Sotiriou was there again on 35 minutes, Cauly again the inspiration with the classy finish by Sotiriou after Lee Grace had cleared off the line.

Only for Mannus' save to deny Cauly on 44 minutes it would have been game over but as Ludogorets backed off in the second half, Rovers responded with some strong passages of play, though the closest they came was a shot by Dylan Watts, which was too high, while a Graham Burke cross forced a save from Ludogorets keeper Sergio Padt, and on 83 minutes Sean Kavanagh almost found fellow sub Burke.

Rovers were punished for slack play in added time as Lee Grace tried to play the ball out but Ludogorets pounced and Thiago's shot went in off a Rovers defender.

Stephen Bradley's side are guaranteed four more ties in Europe even if they leave the Champions League but progress now looks to be beyond their grasp.

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Ludogorets: Padt; Cicinho, Verdon, Plastun, Nedyalkov; Cauly, Santana, Cafumana; Rick (Delev 77), Sotiriou (Thiago 89), Tekpetey (Despodov 71).

Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Lopes, Grace, Hoare; Finn (Gannon 75), McCann, O'Neill, Lyons; Towell (Kavanagh 78), Watts (Burke 60); Gaffney.

Referee: J Pinheiro (Portugal).


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