Monday 22 January 2018

Turner makes Hoops history


SO much of Shamrock Rovers' allure revolves around their glorious past yet, on a fine summer's evening in Tallaght, the class of 2011 made history.

As they emerged from the tunnel for the start of the second half, they bumped into members of the iconic four-in-a-row league winning team, the men who dominated Irish football in the 1980s.

Jim McLaughlin's heroes never managed to win a game in the continent's premier competition, though, while the fabled European nights of the 1960s took place in the Fairs and Cup Winners cups. A European Cup success eluded many great teams.

Now, after a 90-minute triumph, Michael O'Neill's men must finish the job in Estonia next Tuesday to book their place in the third round of the Champions League qualifiers and guarantee at least two more European nights in Dublin 24.

They should make the journey with confidence. Avoiding the concession of an away goal could prove the difference in this tie.

Flora missed a first-half penalty and had their moments. Overall, though, the League of Ireland champions were the better side, and gathered evidence to suggest that they can score in Tallinn.

This highly anticipated affair had a curious opening, with the Estonians spending the first 10 minutes looking like a side that was rattled by the occasion, with hurried clearances and panicked passes aplenty.

Alas, it had a contagious effect as the hosts then went through a similar spell.

During their period in the ascendancy, Billy Dennehy and the ever impressive Ronan Finn stung the fingers of Stanislav Pedok, the Estonian netminder for whom shot-stopping is a strength, and comfort under aerial assault a weakness.

The lack of conviction at the heart of the visiting defence was enough to give the natives cause for optimism.

Nevertheless, Flora had more about them going forward, with ponderous moments from Chris Turner and Stephen O'Donnell providing cause for alarm as the Baltic outfit grew in belief.

Key Flora attacker Henri Anier weaved into the penalty area and could have gone down under some clumsy attention but, perhaps recalling that Turner was earlier booked by the Danish referee for simulation, he stayed on his feet and found a cul de sac.

Subsequently, a better opportunity was created for right-winger Rauno Alliku, but he dragged his shot wide after slipping away from Enda Stevens.

With both protagonists aware that their opponents had vulnerabilities, the game opened up, with Twigg threatening and a Dennehy effort cleared by defender Nikita Baranov when the unconvincing Pedok flapped at another innocuous centre.

But the pendulum again swung towards Flora when left-full Markus Jurgenson meandered into the box where he was felled by Craig Sives.

Penalty -- and muted protests.

However, the car park end of the ground is notorious for poor spot-kicks, and Valeri Minkenen further cemented that reputation with a tame effort that Alan Mannus comfortably collected.

Pandemonium in the stands turned to delirium as Rovers immediately capitalised on the let-off.

Finn scampered down the right and his driven cross was fluffed by Pedok amid a traffic jam of bodies.

From two yards, Turner collected the loose ball and dispatched.

After a period of bad publicity following his offensive comment to Derry's Eamon Zayed, the Northern Irishman revelled in the positive moment.


There was no sense of the crowd being able to relax, though, with the increasingly frenetic nature of proceedings prompting panic and excitement at either end.

The hosts were on top and could have added to their lead before the interval, yet they nearly relinquished it, with Mannus needing to get down smartly to divert a Siim Luts free to safety.

Mannus is set to leave the club for St Johnstone after the away leg, and embarked on a lap of honour after the final whistle here.

Flora boss Martin Reim introduced highly regarded front man Geir Andre Herrem at the break to add a different dimension to his attack.

Some poor moments in possession from the Dubliners gave the small travelling contingent cheer, with O'Neill's rearguard occasionally sailing close to the wind.

Nevertheless, the three men in the Rovers central midfield department got into more advanced areas than their counterparts, with Finn a constant support to lone raider Twigg, the skipper for the night.

Wide men Dennehy and Dean Kelly wandered into situations where they could have doubled the lead, with the latter narrowly off target before leaving the fray with 15 minutes remaining.

Frustration at failing to increase the lead had to be forgotten about thereafter, with the priority leaning towards the preservation of the clean sheet.

Hearts were in mouths as efforts from Anier and Sergei Mosnikov came perilously close to restoring parity, although Flora were breathing sighs of relief at the death as sub Gary McCabe fizzed a free-kick just wide.

The crowd's celebrations at the final whistle were restrained, but with calm heads, it should be a different story on Estonian soil.

Shamrock Rovers -- Mannus, Sullivan, Sives, Oman, Stevens; O'Donnell (O'Neill 83), Turner (McCormack 71), Finn; Kelly (McCabe 76), Dennehy: Twigg.

Flora Tallinn -- Pedok, Kams, Baranov, Palatu, Jurgenson; Alliku (Masitsev 71), Mosnikov, Minkenen, Luts; Beglarishvili (Herrem 45); Henri Anier (Hannes Anier 87).

Ref --Jakob Kehlet (Denmark).

Irish Independent

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