Sunday 25 February 2018

Kenny hoping for Euro tonic

Aidan Fitzmaurice in Panevezys

STEPHEN KENNY admits that he is under pressure to deliver for Shamrock Rovers in Lithuania tonight.

Rovers are here in the dusty, quiet city of Panevezys to play the Lithuanian champions Ekranas, after a first-leg stalemate in Tallaght last week.

The tasty treat of a tie with Belgium's Anderlecht in the next round of the Champions League qualifiers is on offer for the winners, with the compensation of entry into the Europa League play-off round for the losers.

Taking into account UEFA prize funds, gate receipts and TV money, Rovers or Ekranas would be guaranteed to pocket at least €300,000 should they go through tonight.

But, given that they have struggled to win domestic matches -- just two wins from their last 11 league games -- it's a big ask for Rovers to overcome a classy looking Ekranas side, who are dominant in their own back yard. They've won four successive league titles and have lost just one of their last nine home ties in Europe.

Ekranas are also a standard above Estonian outfit Flora Tallinn, who were beaten 1-0 by Rovers at this stage of the competition last season, and Kenny has bad memories of the Baltics as it was a UEFA Cup defeat to an Estonian team in 2005 which cost him his job as Bohemians manager.

A section of the Rovers supporters have called for Kenny's head in recent weeks as the Hoops have not won at home since May 18 and are 10 points behind league leaders Sligo Rovers.

Unlike the Bohs scenario of 2005, Kenny's future as Rovers manager does not depend solely on tonight's game, but the Tallaght native concedes that the pressure is on.

"It's a results business, I do know that, so we have to try and go and win out here and I believe we can, we believe we can score," Kenny said last night.

"I'm not foolish, I know we have to win games. Am I under pressure? It's most likely that I am, that's the reality and there's no point in dressing it up any other way.

"We need results, but I am very pleased with how the players have applied themselves. In the last three home games we have dominated and I don't know how we haven't won the games, we deserved to win all three."

Kenny (below) points out that since the embarrassing 4-0 loss to Bohemians last month his side have looked more solid defensively. They are unbeaten and have claimed two clean sheets in four games since then, though he has worries in defence for tonight's match as centre-halves Ken Oman and Craig Sives are carrying knocks.

That means Euro veteran Colin Hawkins, who made his European debut for St Pat's against Celtic in 1998, could be pressed into action.

"We have played a certain way in the last few weeks and it seems to have suited us as we are defensively a lot better and still creating chances," Kenny said. "We were top scorers in the league up to a few weeks ago but we were conceding goals as we were quite open, the way we were playing.

"This is going to be a tight game and we certainly won't be battering Ekranas. We have to score to go through. There's a great incentive for us to try and score that first goal. That would put us in the ascendancy."

Having done his homework on the opponents, Kenny is aware that Ekranas have prepared well -- their proposed league game last weekend was called off, apparently to give them more rest ahead of the clash with Rovers -- and also have a decent European pedigree, having won at home to teams from Israel, Malta, Estonia and Finland in recent seasons.

"I don't know how they will view the game, they are ranked higher than us and are the seeded team," Kenny said.

"Ekranas have quite a few international players, so they won't be daunted by the prospect of playing Shamrock Rovers, but we showed in the first leg that we're capable of causing them problems and we can do the same here."

Rovers trained at the 4,000 capacity match stadium last night and Kenny will wait until before kick-off to assess the fitness of Oman and Sives, but Ciaran Kilduff will come into the frame, the former UCD man having been out since last season with a broken foot.

SHAMROCK ROVERS (probable) -- Jansson; Sullivan, Sives, Hawkins, Powell; McCabe, Finn, Rice, Brennan, Dennehy; Twigg.

FC Ekranas v Shamrock Rovers,

Live, Setanta Ireland, 6.0 (Irish time)

Irish Independent

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