Toothless Rovers left with mountain to climb
Shamrock Rovers' European dream quickly descended into a nightmare last night as a goal in each half from Finnish side RoPS left them with a mountain to climb.
Shamrock Rvs 0 RoPS FC 2
The Hoops will travel to Lapland next Thursday needing a couple of presents from an RoPS side who ground-share with FC Santa Claus.
Despite dominating possession, the home side were utterly pedestrian in midfield and the few chances they had were squandered.
To see one foul throw at this level is a rarity. To see two from the same player in the same game said a lot about how limited RoPS were but nevertheless, a toothless Rovers side were unable break them down.
RoPS, who finished second in their domestic campaign last season, came to Dublin looking to grab a precious away goal and the fact that their first of two arrived after just 26 minutes meant that they were happy to sit back and hit Rovers on the counter-attack.
The warning signs were there as Rovers pushed for a late equaliser and they fell right into RoPS' trap as a brilliant counter-attack left the hosts on the back foot.
Rovers had started brightly, with Brandon Miele drifting in off the flank, but the visitors took the lead completely against the run of play.
Pat Fenlon's side were confident from the off, with Killian Brennan seeing his shot deflected just wide inside the opening minute, but Rovers weren't able to build on that.
Stephen McPhail was making his first appearance in Europe since playing for Leeds 14 years ago but even the vastly experienced ex-Ireland international couldn't get his side going.
Miele's influence faded and with Gary Shaw completely isolated up front, RoPS began to commit more men forward and they were rewarded.
The concession of the corner that led to the opener should have been avoided but a lack of communication between Simon Madden and keeper Craig Hyland resulted in the defender needlessly heading the ball out of play.
Rovers failed to clear the corner and when the ball fell to Robert Taylor, his shot deflected off Jarkko Lahdenmaki and passed Hyland.
Sean Heaney flashed a header harmlessly over and Killian Brennan dragged a free-kick wide from a dangerous position on the edge of the area as Rovers trailed 1-0 at the break.
The half-time and the indeed the full-time whistles were met with boos from the home supporters as the lack of ambition that their side showed against limited opposition didn't go down well in Tallaght.
Gavin Brennan had a chance to grab an equaliser but he volleyed over the bar and was substituted soon after. His replacement Dean Clarke was on the pitch barely a minute when he forced the visiting keeper into making his first save of the game after almost an hour.
But the sucker punch arrived with 16 minutes left on the clock. Aleksander Kokko skipped through the defence before teeing up Janne Saksela, who coolly side-footed home.
Miele saw a dipping drive tipped on the crossbar and Clarke had another shot saved but RoPS held on for a victory that leaves Rovers on the brink of a costly Euro exit at the first hurdle.
Shamrock Rovers - C Hyland; S Madden, R Cornwall, S Heaney, D O'Connor; B Miele, S McPhail (capt) (S Boyd 86), P Cregg, G Brennan (D Clarke 56), K Brennan (G McCabe 75); G Shaw.
RoPS FC - A Reguero; J Lahdenmaki, A Jammeh (capt), J Hamalainen, J Pirnin; J Saksela, M Saine (M Makitalo 81), M Mravec, J Nganbe (E Muinonen 69); R Taylor; W John (A Kokko 67).
Ref - G Kominis (Greece)
Shamrock Rvs 0
RoPS FC 2