A historic night for Shamrock Rovers, but it wasn’t a tense one. This is the highest compliment that can be paid to their application.
and signature wins for League of Ireland clubs tend to involve bodies being thrown at the horse in a tight situation that could have gone either way.
But while there was some luck in the ricochet off a Skupy defender to give Steven Bradley’s side a second-half lead on the night and an unassailable advantage overall, they weren’t relying on luck to negotiate this try.
The better side prevailed and they did so comfortably to progress to the Europa League play-offs and secure a win at Ferencvaras, knowing that if they failed against the Hungarian top-dogs they would be guaranteed a place in the Europa Conference League and € 3.3 million prize money.
It’s a sweet moment for Bradley and his staff because it’s what they’ve been working towards since their sloppy defeat to Estonia’s Flora Tallinn 12 months ago.
They had to put it down with a quiet determination to put it right, and it was a mature and controlled performance that gave this dressing room a chance to go on adventures previously enjoyed by Rovers in 2011 and Dundalk in 2016 and 2020.
After struggling in the second half in Tallaght last week, Rovers went to Skopje expecting an early barrage from their hosts, and that was true to a degree, but in reality it only lasted two minutes. Corners were missed in a frenetic opening where it temporarily looked like the Scots might have a different outfit in their own half. But once the Hoops could catch their breath, they grew into a game.
Bradley’s tactical plan was smart, with Aaron Green featured alongside Rory Gaffney in the first two. Green’s pace allowed Rovers to come out when under pressure and prevented Skupy from really getting forward and applying pressure as a team.
While their options up front tried to make life difficult for the League of Ireland champions, space opened up as they moved the ball effectively. In truth, it was the team that led the defense that created the best chances. Gaffney threatened early on when Shkupi’s defense fell apart and Christian Naumowski did enough to tip his shot wide of the post.
Skupy was busy again before half-time, making amends after his poor touch allowed Rovers to press high and win possession, while Ronan Finn was involved in paving the way for Richie Towell, who missed an earlier chance to have a shot blocked Senghor from the line before Naumovsky gave up on Gaffney’s tackle.
The scales were hanging. While they had their moments, including a break in which Finn fouled out, ruling him out of next week’s opener with Ferencvaros, the final result was lacking, with Alan Mannus comfortably comfortable and new signing Daniel Cleary calm in the center of the defense. three.
The state of the game was reflected by the fact that Shkupi made a high frequency switch during the break, it was already the last throw of the cube territory. New arrival Christian Trapanovski was able to make his mark, but the key moment was his wild left-footed shot over the bar from close range. Skupi was lucky to have eleven men on the pitch at that stage and Senghor narrowly avoided a second yellow for lunging at Dylan Watts, but it wasn’t the start of another Macedonian horror show for the Irish team.
Instead, Rovers substitute Graeme Burke made his presence felt and set up Gaffney for a strike and a delightful deflection that flicked the ball past Naumowski and sent Rovers into dreamland.
That was the end of the game, the concession saved Shkupa’s legs. Indeed, there was even a sense that Rovers were able to make the changes with Friday’s league game in Derry in mind rather than the inevitable fears of an unlikely comeback.
It was the substitutions that put the game to bed with Burke strolling around finding space to release teenage striker Aydom Emaha who was recognized on the pitch and found his way past Naumouski for the 18-year-old’s third goal in Europe. .
Sundat Adetunji played in Shkupi’s goal in added time, but there was no sign of celebration. They will have to contend with the aerial picture in either Kosovo or the Faroe Islands to keep their group stage hopes alive. Rovers can go further with a burden lifted from their shoulders.
Skupy: Naumovsky, Timovsky (Demiry 79), Senghor, Margvelashvili, Shedzhi (Brdorovsky 45); Alvarez, Lamane (Delil 45), Kevan; Georgiev (Kolanosky, 79), Adetunji, Ali (Trapanovsky, 45)
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus, Hore, Cleary, Grace; Finn (Gannon 68), O’Neill, Towell (Burke 62), Lyons (Farrugia 81); Watts, Gaffney (Cavanagh 68); Green (Emohu 81)