Wednesday 21 February 2018

Limp end to Hoops' European dreams

Ekranas 2 Shamrock Rovers 1
(Ekranas win 2-1 on agg)
Champions League second qualifying round

A dejected Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Oscar Jansson after the final whistle. UEFA Champions League, 2nd Qualifying Round, 2nd Leg, FK Ekranas v Shamrock Rovers, Aukštaitija Stadium, Panev?žys, Lithuania. Photo: Sportsfile
A dejected Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Oscar Jansson after the final whistle. UEFA Champions League, 2nd Qualifying Round, 2nd Leg, FK Ekranas v Shamrock Rovers, Aukštaitija Stadium, Panev?žys, Lithuania. Photo: Sportsfile
Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

LIFELESS in Lithuania as Shamrock Rovers' European dream ended with a limp Champions League exit at the hands of a very ordinary side from the Baltics.

Instead of booking flights to Belgium for a dream clash with Anderlecht next week, Rovers fans are instead dreading a nightmare trip up the N2 to play Derry City on Friday night, with the future of manager Stephen Kenny up in the air after this poor performance, though the manager afterwards came out and said that the Hoops have to "fight for their lives" to try and rescue the season.

The 2-1 scoreline looked respectable thanks to an injury-time penalty from Gary McCabe, but Rovers were second best throughout and only some fine saves from goalkeeper Oscar Jansson prevented them losing by four or five goals.

The jackpot of at least €240,000 and that trip to Belgium which comes with progress will now go to the Lithuanians and for Rovers, who played 12 European games last season, their 2012 Euro adventure is over after 180 minutes.

The post-mortems today will examine how they could fold so easily, and the failure to convert chances in the home leg undoubtedly cost Rovers, but last night too many men underperformed. They have now left Kenny's job in question, some of the visiting fans making their feelings known after the game by calling on the manager to walk away.

"I can understand the fans' frustration -- Shamrock Rovers is a fan-driven club, people invest a lot of money and time in the club, and in the last two season they have been used to success," Kenny said after the game when asked about the supporters' reaction.

"That's part of life when people invest so much time and emotion into something and it doesn't go to plan -- they get frustrated. The reality is that results haven't gone well lately but we are in three competitions; if we win in Derry on Friday, which is our objective, we narrow the deficit behind Sligo to seven points and we have to play them twice.

"We have to try and win in Derry on Friday and fight for our lives. That's what we have to do. The way we played at the start of the second half, we never got the ball wide and got crosses in, which we are usually good at -- the quality of our passing was not what we needed.

"Over the two legs we created more chances than them, but Ekranas got the upper hand in the game and we can't deny that."

Rovers had received a welcome pre-match boost when key defender and captain Ken Oman was passed fit to start as he had been a major doubt due to a leg injury, and his presence helped the visitors stay calm and composed in a quiet opening period.

It took until the 22nd minute for some life to come into the game, when Jansson pulled off a good save to deny Vytautas Luksa from close range.

As the half progressed, and the temperature dropped, some confidence came into Rovers' play. On 38 minutes a Killian Brennan free-kick was floated towards Gary Twigg at the far post but the Scottish striker was unable to connect.

It seemed as if Rovers would get to the half-time break without having conceded, but with almost the last strike of the ball, Serbian midfielder Marko Andelkovic -- a former Partizan Belgrade player -- got his head to a cross from Giedrius Tomkevicius and nodded it past Jansson, an awful goal from an Irish point of view as Andelkovic was left unmarked in the box.

The 200-strong Rovers contingent in Panevezys hoped for a response but what came after was unconvincing, and it was no surprise when Ekranas doubled their lead on 63 minutes.

The goal again stemmed from some awful defending as Zilvanias Kymantas waltzed past four Rovers players and struck a left-foot shot past Jansson.

It could have been 3-0 on 76 minutes as Aurimas Kucys broke free and only had Jansson to beat but the Swede saved at his feet, and Jansson was the saviour again six minutes from time, denying substitute Uchenna Umeh Calistus.

With sub Daryl Kavanagh injecting some life into the Rovers attack, the visitors tried to salvage things and they did get something in injury-time when winger McCabe slotted home a penalty after a handball in the box, but it was too late to rescue the tie, and when Craig Sives headed wide from a free-kick with almost the last act of the game, it was done and dusted.

Whether it's too late for Kenny to rescue things at Rovers, or whether he will get time to try and revive the league season, remains to be seen.

EKRANAS -- Zubas; Luksa (Kavaliauskas 89), Dedura, Samuslovas, Urdinov; Tomkevicius, Kucys; Varnas, Andelkovic, Vertelis (Calistus 80); Kymantas (Girdvaimis 86).

SHAMROCK Rovers -- Jansson; Sullivan, Oman (capt), Sives, Powell; McCabe, Brennan (Turner 64), Finn, Rice (Kavanagh 73), Dennehy (Kilduff 78); Twigg.

REF -- S Vincic (Slovenia).

Irish Independent

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