Classy Jack Byrne inspires Shamrock Rovers to comeback European victory over Apollon Limassol
Shamrock Rovers 2 Apollon Limassol 1
FOR a second successive Thursday, Tallaght heaved at the final whistle.
European nights are bringing the best out of a Shamrock Rovers side that is steadily finding their way under Stephen Bradley and this first leg triumph gives them the platform to travel to Cyprus with confidence.
Apollon Limassol are an opponent with a solid pedigree. They registered victories over Lazio and Marseille in the group stages of last year's Europa League.
But they have a battle on their hands to stay in this year's competition after a Hoops side that was again inspired by the invention of Jack Byrne secured a deserved success in front of 5,500 entertained spectators. The 50 or so that had made their way here from Limassol weren't as enthused by it all.
For the second night on the trot, an Irish side found themselves behind inside five minutes.
Dundalk's concession on Wednesday was slapstick, but Rovers were undone by an instinctively brilliant strike from Apollon captain Fotis Papoulis, with his right footed half volley from 20 yards arrowing past Alan Mannus into the roof of the net.
Rovers had fallen behind on three occasions in their win over Brann in the first round so this was familiar territory. Their response was measured, with the natives actually enjoying a good spell where they kept possession and gradually forced the pressure that resulted in a leveller.
Byrne sent in a corner that was dispatched goalwards by the head of defender Lee Grace with his header appearing to cross the line off the inside of the post. Dan Carr was on hand to make completely sure.
Rovers had to negotiate some sticky patches in order to retain parity to the interval, with Mannus called upon to make a number of stops, the highlight of which was a fingertip effort to deny Emilio Zelaya.
Rovers were particularly under the cosh just before the break, pegged back onto the edge of their own area.
An Apollon side with nine different nationalities in their starting XI sporadically showed their quality. But they didn't quite have a player like Byrne.
There was a lot of spotlight on the playmaker after his starring display against SK Brann, and his ability pulled him out of a couple of situations where the away side were trying to get tight.
Mick McCarthy had spoken earlier in the day about what the Dubliner needed to do to force a way back into the squad, indicating that he held the view that the 23-year-old dropped too deep to take the ball off the centre halves when that should be another player's job.
"If he plays there then he is never ever ever going to have a chance of playing for me, getting the ball off the centre backs, being a quarter back and firing the ball all over," said McCarthy. "He has to be up behind the centre forward.
"I'm not trying to tell Stephen Bradley where to play him. I'm saying that any chance he has of playing for me is him playing further forward where he can find a final pass because he can see it."
The problem for Byrne before the interval was that Rovers were finding it hard to consistently work the ball into the areas where he can really hurt the opposition and he naturally dropped back in order to play a greater role.
He did instigate a handful of promising moves by picking passes from a deeper position that helped to move the League of Ireland side up the park.
They resumed brightly for the second half with a purpose that naturally allowed Byrne to impose in the final third. And a period in the ascendancy was rewarded by the lead goal.
It all started with Byrne wriggling free of two pursuers just inside the halfway line, setting the wheels in motion for a move that culminated in a foul on Ronan Finn. Byrne stepped up to send in a dangerous in-swinger that was glanced to the net by Roberto Lopes with the help of a nick off an Apollon defender.
Rovers initially went looking for a third with another dead ball smashed off the crossbar by the head of Grace, but they steadily began to fall deeper into their own half.
Bradley took effective action by introducing Gary O'Neill for the hard working Finn.
Carr's replacement Aaron Greene wasted an opportunity to extend the lead on the counter, taking the ball too far wide after skipping around keeper Joel Mall, with Apollon showing signs off ill discipline.
That perception was confirmed by a rash tackle on Byrne by Esteban Sachetti that prompted the Swiss official to produce a red card. Rovers weren't able to add another, but they will enter the heat of Limassol with a lead and the confidence to believe that another major step forward is possible.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus, O'Brien, Lopes, Grace; Boyle, Bolger, McEneff (Watts 85), Kavanagh; Byrne, Finn (O'Neill 77); Carr (Greene 64)
Apollon Limassol: Mall, Pedro, Yuste, Szalai, Bessat; Markovic, Sachetti; Gianniotas, Pittas (Gakpe 62), Papoulis (Aguirre 72); Zelaya (Pereyra 80)
Referee: S Klossner (Switzerland)