Sligo have class to push on – Solskjaer
Molde FK 2 Sligo Rovers 0 (Molde win 3-0 on agg)
SLIGO ROVERS' dream of matching their domestic success with glory in Europe came to nothing as the League of Ireland champions exited the Champions League at the first hurdle.
Given the resources and wealth available to the opposing club, who recently sold a player to the English Premier League and then bought him back, at a profit, for €2m, the odds were stacked against Sligo from the start, though the tie may have had a different complexion if Sligo had lasted longer than five minutes before conceding a goal.
But, to Sligo's credit, they retained their shape throughout and even caused the Norwegians, enjoying an unexpected heatwave here, to work up some sweat.
A positive spell from Sligo early on yielded four corners in a short spell and an honest Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was most unhappy with his side's display in the first half.
"I am happy to be through but not with the performance," a rather relieved-looking Solskjaer said afterwards, offering warm words to his counterpart Ian Baraclough.
"I wasn't happy with our night's work. We started off really brightly, in the first six or seven minutes, but until half-time we didn't look like ourselves at all, no team shape and players wanting to win the game by themselves.
"I told Ian Baraclough they should have been two or three up at half-time and I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the season. Now Sligo have had a taste of this and next year, with a bit more experience, they might go through to the next round."
For a Sligo success, the Irish side needed to keep the Norwegians scoreless for a sustained period and then see if they could nick an away goal. That game plan was in tatters with less than five minutes gone as Molde went 1-0 up, right-back Martin Linnes given time and space to march into the box and fire a shot past Gary Rogers.
The usual script at times like this – Irish side away from home and losing – would see the visitors crumble and concede a succession of goals, but there is some resolve in this Rovers side, and they responded well.
A period of Sligo pressure earned them four corners in the space of two minutes as efforts from Kieran Djilali, David McMillan and Djilali again were all on target, while on 12 minutes McMillan saw his headed effort from a Joseph Ndo cross go just wide.
That period of play caused problems for Molde, but Sligo were capable of making problems of their own – Seamus Conneely was caught in possession on 34 minutes and it needed a superb tackle from Evan McMillan to cut out Daniel Chima Chukwu.
Two minutes later it was Ross Gaynor who surrendered the ball needlessly and this time Nigerian forward Chukwu was blocked by Alan Keane.
Solksjaer was able to experiment, making two half-time substitutions, and Molde were a far better side in the second half as they upped their game considerably.
One of the former Manchester United striker's substitutes, Aliou Coly, netted the home side's second of the night on 77 minutes.
Sent free down the left, Coly cut inside, played a one-two with Chukwu and Coly's fierce shot gave Rogers no chance.
Sligo by that stage had attackers Raff Cretaro and Danny North, both fit again after injury, on the field but it was a lost cause for Rovers, who were unable to cause any stress to 'keeper Orjan Haskjold.
North did have a chance when he was one-on-one with Haskjold in added-time but his shot was weak and easily saved.
"We can have no complaints at all, none at all. I don't think we could have given any more and I am walking away from here very proud of what the players have done," said Baraclough (pictured below saluting the Sligo fans afterwards).
"We didn't wilt, we took the game to them – with the first goal on five minutes they opened us up early on and just showed us what qualities they've got but we didn't throw the towel in.
"We stuck to our game plan, tried to open them up and tried to play attacking football at times, but we knew if we were too open we'd be open for a counter-attack.
"On another day we could have got ourselves a couple of goals but it didn't fall for us – even at the end when Danny North had a one-v-one with the 'keeper it wasn't our night.
"But I think we have done a great deal there so people can talk about Sligo football and we acquitted ourselves well, on another day it could have been different."