Shamrock Rovers come agonisingly close to shock Stockholm win but European campaign ends after extra time
AIK 1 Shamrock Rover 1 AET (AIK win 2-1 on agg)
Despite a courageous display, laced with craft and tenacity, Shamrock Rovers fell just short in the Friends Arena in Stockholm as they bravely bowed out of the Europa League.
Ultimately, having taken and early lead, Stephen Bradley’s side were left to rue two missed chances in 90 minutes as the Allsvenskan leaders AIK, laced with internationals, survived to win a riveting tie in extra-time.
With Roberto Lopes coming in as the one change as manager Bradley went with three at the back, an energetic Rovers had a good shape to them from the off.
Enjoying good possession and passing the ball well, they duly got their reward their start deserved to stun the home crowd by taking a 19th minute lead from their first corner of the game.
Sean Kavanagh’s delivery was superbly flighted with pace to the back post where Dan Carr turned to tuck the ball home with a delightful right-foot finish.
Carr was there again minutes later, flicking on a diagonal free kick from Kavanagh, though this time too close to Linner.
Clearly flustered but their visitors’ vigour and press, an unforced AIK mistake should have seen brought Rovers a second goal on 33 minutes.
Rasmus Lundkvist’s back pass put Joel Coustrain straight in on goal down the inside right channel.
The Hoops winger’s angled shot was into the chest of Linner as the frustrated Swedes were relieved to scramble the ball clear to be soon greeted by by loud boos from the crowd on the half-time whistle.
AIK tried to up their tempo on the resumption, but laboured to find holes in a tenacious Rovers rearguard.
Kristoffer Olsson, one of two changes for the home side just past the hour mark, had claims for a penalty on 64 minutes not entertained by the Belgian referee.
Frustration mounting, AIK were shooting from distance, an Aleksander Milosevic’s 40-yard drive comfortable for the composed 16-year-old Gavin Bazunu in the Rovers goal.
As the pressure mounted, Milosevic drove a fierce shot wide before Olsson played fellow substitute Nicolas Stefanelli to toe feebly wide.
Rovers then spurned a gilt-edged chance to win it in normal time on 87 minutes.
Another excellent cross from Kavanagh found substitute Aaron Greene whose downward header flew wide off the butt of a post.
Having blown their chance in 90 minutes, a tired Rovers were undone within three minutes of extra-time.
Tarik Elyounoussi threaded a pass through for the run of Stefanelli whose shot had enough power to beat Bazunu despite the keeper getting a touch to it.