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Rovers’ positive attitude pays off (Irish Times)

My match report published in The Irish Times (Wednesday 20 July 2011)



SOCCER: SHAMROCK ROVERS produced a disciplined display away to FC Flora Tallinn yesterday and the result was enough to see them through on aggregate.

On the basis of the number of chances and quantity of possession, Rovers should have won the tie by more, but manager Michael O’Neill was delighted with the performance.

“We bossed the game from start to finish,” he said last night. “It’s just amazing we didn’t manage to win the game, but the important thing is we won the tie and got two clean sheets.”

The reward that awaits them in the third qualifying round is a difficult trip to FC Copenhagen in the first leg next Wednesday night.

O’Neill made one change from the first leg, bringing in Conor McCormack for Stephen O’Donnell. McCormack, a former Serie B player with Triestina, was making his starting debut in the Champions League and the 21-year-old provided crucial protection in front of the Rovers defence.

“I thought he was fantastic,” said his manager. “He was always in the right place at the right time to pick the game up for us. He’s very disciplined, probably more disciplined than any player we have. He had two and a half years in Italy and he said he spent two and a half years learning the game and that system. It paid dividends because he looked comfortable.”

The Estonian champions were first to press as they looked to overcome the one-goal deficit from the first leg.

Masitsev played in Luts, whose shot went over the bar and into the 350 or so Rovers fans behind the goal before Rovers forced the first corner after seven minutes. Flora were forced to make an early change three minutes later when Alliku went off with a shoulder injury to be replaced by Dupikov.

Rovers, playing in black, let Mosnikov get in and his shot went just past the left post. Full back Pat Sullivan saw plenty of the ball and some link-up play with captain Gary Twigg created space for Ronan Finn, who couldn’t keep his shot on target.

A deflected Finn shot gave Dean Kelly the chance to put the ball in the danger area, but Flora goalkeeper Pedok held the ball under a heavy challenge from Chris Turner.

Alan Mannus was next called into play when he punched clear through a crowd of players from a Minkenan cross. It was Mannus’ last game for Rovers as he moves to SPL side St Johnstone later this week. In injury-time, in the first half, Billy Dennehy’s header whistled just over the bar.

In the second half, Rovers stepped it up, and following a 13-pass move, Twigg forced Pedok into a good save.

The Dublin side forced a string of corners and from one by Dennehy, Ken Oman again tested Pedok. The Macedonian referee produced a yellow card for Turner so he will miss the first leg against Copenhagen.

As the shadows lengthened across the pitch Kelly went closest to breaking the deadlock with a header from a Stephens cross.

Even though Rovers knew 0-0 would be enough to take them through, they avoided sitting back in the last 15 minutes.

“We said to them before to hold on to what we have by being positive,” explained O’Neill. “We were always trying to win.”

Rovers greatest concern in the second half came in injury-time when a McCormack foul handed Flora a free-kick on the edge of the box. When Luts sent the ball over the bar, the Rovers fans in the ground knew the tie was over.

Rovers now have a minimum four more games in Europe, with a full house expected in Tallaght against Copenhagen.

Jonathan Roche, club chairman, confirmed Copenhagen will likely take up their full 10 per cent allocation and was in no doubt about the importance of the games from a financial and publicity point of view. “It’s great for us,” said Roche, “but more importantly, it’s the profile for the next month.”

FC FLORA TALLINN: Pedok; Kams, Palatu, Baranov, Jurgenson; Alliku (Dupikov 10), Minkenen, Mosnikov (Beglarishvili, 72 mins), Masitsev (Peitre); Anier, Luts.

SHAMROCK ROVERS : Mannus; Sullivan, Sives, Oman, Stevens; Dennehy, Turner (O’Donnell, 82 mins), McCormack, Finn, Kelly; Twigg.

Referee: Dimitar Meckarovski (MKD).

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