Friday 22 March 2019

Shamrock Rovers undone by piece of magic against Swedish league leaders

Shamrock Rovers 0 AIK 1

Shamrock Rovers players leave the pitch after defeat to AIK
Shamrock Rovers players leave the pitch after defeat to AIK

Aidan Fitzmaurice

A major dose of heartache at home to a side called AIK was the outcome for Shamrock Rovers on their return to the European stage.

The fact that they didn't deserve to lose and were only outwitted by one sweet move from the Swedes matters not, as with a 1-0 loss at home to the current leaders of the Swedish league, it will take a performance in Stockholm next week akin to their Belgrade heroics of 2011 for Rovers to progress to the second qualifying round.

"We played well enough to get something but we switched off for a minute and got punished," admitted Rovers boss Stephen Bradley, hopeful his side can do something in the away leg.

"They are good side but we believe we can cause them problems, though they will be better again over there. We were good for long parts of the game but we need to improve our concentration, we need to be switched on for 90 minutes and be ruthless in the final third.

"But we can cause problems for them over there."

Rovers' teenage keeper Gavin Bazunu was beaten for the first time in his five appearances and there was little he could do about the finish from Daniel Sundgren, the Rovers defence exposed by a series of classy one-touch moves which set up the winner for Sundgren.

This affair was practically a carbon copy of Cork City's European battle on Tuesday night, where the Irish side looked comfortable at home and were, seemingly, on their way to a 0-0 draw, only to get caught out in the latter stages.

AIK claimed the away goal and the win which leaves them in the driving seat for a place in the second round, probably against Danish side Nordsjælland, presuming they account for Irish League side Clinfonville

AIK had a lot of class in their squad, eight players with senior international experience in their starting XI but the Swedes were slow to come out of the blocks.

Rovers had started well, pressure and possession opening up a chance for Dan Carr on six minutes while Dylan Watts, making his debut for the Hoops, tested keeper Oscar Linner with a well-struck shot two minutes later.

But AIK don't have a reputation as one of the best sides in Sweden for no reason and, having shown patience on foreign soil, began to get a grip on the game, threats from Iraqi international Ahmed Yasin and captain Henik Goitom.

Dylan Watts, playing in his first competitive game for the Hoops following his move from Leicester City, via Bohemians, was easily at home on the European stage and he will be a big addition to Rovers.

Watts saw a shot on 52 minutes deflected for a corner and three minutes later he watched as the jittery-looking keeper Linner spilled Watts' effort, but Linner cleared up at the second time of asking.

A scoreless draw looked likely but with 16 minutes left, AIK did their stuff. Alexander Milosevic set up Norway international Tarik Elyounussi and his one-touch pass fell nicely for Sundgren.

Rovers brought on Aaron Greene for a debut in his second spell as a Hoop and while did his best, testing Linner with a shot late on, the job was by now done for the Swedes who take home a clean sheet, Rovers with it all to do.

Shamrock Rovers – Bazunu; Boyle, Grace, O'Brien (Lopes 83); G Bolger (A Bolger 77), Bone; Kavanagh, Watts, Finn (capt), Coustrain; Carr (Greene 75).

AIK – Linner, Sundgren, Milosevic, Karlsson, Jansson, Hauksson; Olsson, Adu; Yasin (Advic 77); Elyounoussi (Silva 90), Goitom (capt)

REF: A Harkam (Austria)

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