O’Neill’s men park bus to keep dream alive

SHAMROCK ROVERS came into last night’s Champions League qualifier knowing they were facing formidable opposition in Copenhagen, a team studded with full internationals and players with knockout stage experience of Europe’s biggest competition.

The League of Ireland champions emerged from the game with much credit, putting in a determined performance but they still face the difficult task of overcoming last night’s 1-0 defeat when Copenhagen visit Tallaght next Tuesday.

Rovers manager Michael O’Neill had made it clear that his objective for the first leg in the Parken Stadium was to contain the Danish champions and keep the tie alive. That is what his team managed to do with his team effectively deploying a 4-1-4-1 system to stifle the attacking threat of Copenhagen.

“I was delighted with the performance and I thought we were excellent throughout the game,” said O’Neill. “There is a slight hint of disappointment to have lost the game to be honest.”

Things did not go exactly to plan for O’Neill, with his side conceding a goal after only three minutes. Copenhagen won a corner which Rovers cleared but Pierre Bengtsson collected the ball and his cross was headed into the top right-hand corner by Solvi Ottesen.

Copenhagen went on to create a number of chances down the left in the first half. Pape Pate Diouf initially turned Craig Sives, cutting in on the left but his right-foot shot went over the bar.

Next, Bengtsson got clear down the left but Diouf wastefully hit the ball over the bar.

The Dubliners’ best chance of the half came when a Pat Sullivan cross was flicked on by captain Gary Twigg to Billy Dennehy but he couldn’t force the ball home under pressure in the six yard box in front of the 200 or so Rovers fans who had made the trip.

Ryan Thompson was certainly the busier goalkeeper as he came through a crowd of players to punch clear a cross from the Copenhagen player with the Irish ancestry, Thomas Delaney.

It was a big night for the goalkeeper, who became the first Jamaican to play in the Champions League on the night he replaced the recently departed Alan Mannus in goal.

Just before half time he pulled off a fine save when Diouf powered a free header towards the top corner from another Delaney cross.

O’Neill was delighted with the performance of his goalkeeper and the defence in front of him.

“He made key saves at key moments and dealt with everything else that was asked of him,” said O’Neill. “It was fantastic from him and fantastic from the back four. We defended valiantly.’’

Ken Oman, who picked up a knee injury late in the game, came closest for Rovers in the second half when his header had keeper Johan Wiland scrambling.

Both Ronan Finn and Twigg created chances for the Hoops as the game moved into the last quarter but they couldn’t claim the away goal ahead of next week’s return leg.

O’Neill said: “Every time the ball went into the box we asked questions of them and it gives us every encouragement for the second leg. The players enhanced their reputation.”

Last night’s Champions League qualifiers — First legs: HJK Helsinki 1 Dinamo Zagreb 2; FC Copenhagen 1 Shamrock Rovers 0; OB Odense 1 Panathinaikos 1; Maccabi Haifa 2 NK Maribor 1; Standard Liege 1 Zurich 1; Benfica 2 Trabzonspor 0; Rosenborg 0 Plzen 1.

COPENHAGEN: Wiland; Thomsen (Sigurdsson 45), Ottesen, Jorgensen, Bengtsson; Bolanos, Claudemir, Grindheim, Delaney (Absalonsen 60); Diouf, Santin (Nordstrand 69).

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Thompson; Sullivan, Sives, Oman (Murray 82), Stevens; McCormack; Kelly (McCabe 52), Rice (Kilduff 89), Finn, Dennehy; Twigg.

Referee: Pavle Radovanovic (Montenegro).

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