Ferencvaros 4 Shamrock Rovers 0
The translation of a Stephen Bradley answer from English to Hungarian drew a few smiles and some giddy laughter from local media.
His suggestion that Ferencvaros were right up there at the level of the AC Milan side they had faced in the Europa League two years ago drew a response which indicated the natives were sceptical rather than flattered.
It all tied in with the outcome of a game that in some ways was difficult to interpret and in others was pretty straightforward. Make no mistake about it, the better team prevailed and with a degree of comfort.
Shamrock Rovers conceded bad goals, with individual mistakes contributing, yet the margin of defeat was fair enough on the balance of play and chances created. But while there was disappointment in the aftermath, there was no sense of desolation.
The stakes for this Europa League play-off were high, yet the cushion of group-stage Conference League football in the back pocket meant it had the potential to elevate their year without defining it.
Irish sides need to be at their absolute peak to trouble opponents of this quality and Bradley’s charges were well off that. Missing six first-teamers, four of whom would likely have started, is the kind of thing League of Ireland sides can do without in this company.
The niggling sense is that this tie might have proved a bridge too far anyway, but they will never know.
But the fact that Bradley was making changes in the second half with Sunday’s league game against Dundalk in mind – Ferencvaros had their game called off so they could concentrate on Europe – demonstrated that this was a different type of play-off encounter to previous all-or-nothing Irish encounters at the final hurdle.
Rovers midfielder Dylan Watts had spoken on the eve of the game about the club’s habit of struggling away from home in first-leg ties.
There were no issues with travel for this tie yet, from the outset here, there were worrying signs. Wing-back Seán Kavanagh was deployed in central midfield here to provide support to Gary O’Neill. Chris McCann was doing well offering extra protection in that department in Europe prior to suffering an injury in the previous round.
But it’s possible that any combination of midfielders might have struggled in a match where the opponents were comfortably able to deal with the Rovers attacking threat and keep coming back.
In the away leg with Shkupi, a lower level of opponent, the presence of Rory Gaffney and Aaron Greene up top kept the opposition rearguard deeper than they might have liked, with the Hoops able to turn and stretch their hosts.
They didn’t have the same level of success here. Ferencvaros had the platform to control proceedings and the dynamic Moroccan international Ryan Mmaee, who tormented the Irish side before the interval, had already struck the post before their opener. He would strike it again before the interval.
The disappointing aspect for Bradley is that it came from a short corner and a routine cross with a ricochet allowing Carlos Auzqui to fire past Alan Mannus.
Rovers were paddling and, while they did have a decent spell after the water break, Mmaee was always ready to pounce when numbers were committed. Sure enough, when Seán Hoare switched off, Aissa Ladouni’s pass from deep released the Moroccan and he showed composure to dink the ball across for Adama Traore to convert.
Comeback plans were effectively doomed three minutes from the restart. It was another illustration of how bad things can happen much quicker at this level. Greene thought he’d won a corner at one end, yet the ball did not go out. Ferencvaros popped the ball out and seconds later, a tired, backtracking Seán Gannon was helping a Mannus save into the path of the grateful Traore.
“A terrible goal,” admitted Bradley, “You’re talking at half-time about keeping the game tight and could we get a chance in the game. But if you’re not at your maximum at this level, you get punished.”
It could have got worse with Mmaee squandering another pair of chances. Bradley made all five subs, with Jack Byrne amongst those introduced as he tries to return to full fitness
Teenagers Justin Ferizaj and Gideon Tetteh came in for Watts and Greene, a nice moment for the duo which showed the bench were partially in Dundalk mode.
Eldan Civic’s fortuitous injury-time strike removed any suspense and showed Rovers the standards they will need to meet on the road ahead.
Ferencvaros – Dibusz; Wingo, Botka, Knoester, Paszka (Civic 84); Besic (Vecsei 70), Ladouni; Auzqui (Marquinhos 63), Tokmac, Traore (Mercier 84); Mmaee (Boli 63).
Shamrock Rovers – Mannus; Hoare, Cleary, Grace; Gannon (Farrugia 60), O’Neill, Kavanagh (Byrne 60), Lyons; Watts (Ferizaj 70); Gaffney (Towell 60), Greene (Tetteh 79).
Ref – G Nyberg (Sweden).