Monday 22 January 2018

Rovers still in mix despite stalemate


SHAMROCK RVS 0 FK EKRANAS 0 Ruaidhri O'Connor Champions League 2nd qualifying Rd 1st Leg

THE second qualifying round of the Champions League is little more than a staging post for European expeditions and Rovers need a result in the Lithuanian city of Panevezys next Tuesday if they want a repeat of last year's adventures.

The Hoops avoided conceding an away goal but couldn't take the series of gilt-edged chances they created on a balmy, tense night in Tallaght against an Ekranas side who rarely looked interested in taking the advantage.

This Rovers outfit are more experienced than any Irish side at this level and they will need all their nous to progress. They will hope to draw on their big away wins over Bnei Yehuda in Israel and Partizan Belgrade in Serbia to get the result they need to guarantee four more European ties.

If they fail, they will rue the hectic last 10 minutes that saw Gary Twigg, Ronan Finn, Chris Turner and Stephen O'Donnell come close to breaching the Lithuanian rearguard.

Scottish striker Twigg will have had trouble sleeping in particular after his 16th European tie without a goal. The chance, created by the enterprise of substitute Billy Dennehy, was the kind that he usually puts away in his sleep.

O'Donnell was brilliantly denied by Emilijus Zubas as the game entered injury-time as Ekranas gleefully celebrated their escape with their sizeable group of fans at the end.

Rovers will know they can trouble the Lithuanians after an improved second half that followed a typically cagey first that developed into a pattern of sporadic home attacks and long periods of comfort for the visitors, who looked good on the ball but were unwilling to commit with any real attacking intent.

As the break approached, the Irish champions started finding holes. Conor Powell caught Vytautas Luksa out of position to find Gary McCabe and he squared for Killian Brennan, who fired wide. Finn then had the first real chance when Daryl Kavanagh threaded a neat ball through but, one-on-one with goalkeeper Emilijus Zubas, the midfielder pulled his shot across goal.

Rovers came out firing after the interval and tore into their opponents. Pat Sullivan suddenly looked like his old self following his return from Australia and began surging forward down the right flank with purpose.

Brennan tested Zubas from the edge of the box, before Kavanagh spotted a Sullivan charge and the right-back picked out McCabe, only for the smallest man on the pitch to be out-muscled by Ignas Dedura.

Finn spurned another glorious opportunity to take the lead. Catching Aurimas Kucys dawdling, he rounded Ignas Dedura and held off the chasing midfielder but his firm shot from inside the box was too close to Zubas.

As the pressure eased momentarily, the Lithuanians reminded the Hoops of their danger when they capitalised on a loose Kavanagh pass and countered, with Marko Andelkovic hitting a curling shot on the run that was touched around the post by Oscar Jansson.

A tiring Kavanagh was replaced by Billy Dennehy in an attempt to inject some pace into the Hoops' attack and Chris Turner followed him on shortly afterwards as Stephen Kenny attempted to add attacking impetus.

It nearly had the desired impact when, with 10 minutes remaining, Dennehy raced down the left and delivered a low cross. Turner stepped over and it ran to Twigg, whose decision to take a touch rather than shoot allowed Zubas an opportunity to clear. Seconds later the Scot pulled the ball back to Finn, whose rising drive rattled the crossbar and, again, Ekranas escaped.

The visitors were living on the edge and Tallaght was on its feet to greet a famous winner when Brennan's neat pass found substitute Stephen O'Donnell in the box, but Zubas somehow got the touch he needed to keep his clean sheet even if referee Mattius Gestranius denied the hosts a corner.

A final effort from Craig Sives from Brennan's corner went just wide, but it wasn't to be. It is all to play for next Tuesday and Rovers will be confident they can score.

SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Jansson; Sullivan, Sives, Oman, Powell; Brennan (O'Donnell 83), Finn, Rice; McCabe (Turner 74), Twigg, Kavanagh.

FK EKRANAS -- Zubas; Luksa, Dedura, Samusovas, Urdinov; Tomkevcius, Andelkovic (Morvilas 91); Varnas, Kymantas, Kucys.

REF -- M Gestranius (Finland).

Irish Independent

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