Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley feels they will need to improve on the performance that gave them a two-goal lead travelling to North Macedonia if they are to see the job through against Shkupi tomorrow night and secure group stage European football.
The League of Ireland champions have brought a 3-1 advantage to Skopje for the Europa League third round qualifier second leg, a tie that does more than book the winners a spot in the playoff round. They will be assured the safety net of a spot in the Europa Conference League groups and also a minimum cheque of €3.3m from UEFA.
Gary O’Neill’s injury time goal in Tallaght put a gloss on the second half where Rovers struggled to allow Shkupi back into the tie and Bradley has used that to warn his group that they have to do much better.
“For 25 minutes, we needed Alan Mannus to keep us in the game and they showed their quality in that moment and tomorrow I'd imagine they will bring that from the first minute so we’ve got to make sure we go up the levels,” said Bradley, speaking today from the 31 degree heat in Skopje that will have cooled by the 9pm kickoff time on Tuesday (8pm Irish).
“Alan was fantastic last week, he made some really important saves, too many important saves for our liking so we've got to make sure that we go up a few levels.”
Rovers are without Chris McCann, an important influence in the defensive midfield department, and Bradley feels that going there with the aim of just containing would be a dangerous strategy as Shkupi are stronger in offensive areas.
“We’ve got to go and attack them,” said Bradley, with the Irish side enjoying a smooth trip to North Macedonia, a contrast from Shkupi’s circuitous route to Dublin via Shannon last week.
As it stands, it’s unclear if a stream will be available for Rovers fans to watch with no TV company stepping up to show the tie.
Bradley – who will have Jack Byrne available for selection again – is very happy with his side’s position as regards their group stage aim.
“We're one game away from it,” he said. “We know it's a tough one but we've worked hard to get ourselves into this position and it's a nice position to be in.”