Substitute Adrian Sardinero ended valiant Shamrock Rovers’ Europa League adventure with an extra-time winner in Nicosia. Both sides finished with ten men on an energy-sapping night, the Cypriots edging through to meet Austria Vienna in next week’s third round.
As they did on their previous three games in the competition, Rovers showed their mettle in coming from behind for a fifth time here with the goal of the game from Aaron Greene.
Roared on by a band of around 100 Hoops faithful, Rovers started positively with Ethan Boyle getting forward on the right inside the first minute, though he overhit his cross.
Unbeaten in their last nine qualifiers at home, Apollon soon settled, with Emilio Zelaya forcing a fourth minute corner from a free kick. It was taken short by Zelaya to Yannis Gianniotas to pick out Diego Aguirre who shot narrowly wide.
Apollon then enjoyed a good spell of possession, forcing a second corner, before making it tell on 18 minutes to take the lead on the night and in the tie.
Impressive midfielder Gianniotas looped a cross in from the right to the far post and Zelaya, who scored four times in the last round, outjumped the defence to head past Rovers keeper Alan Mannus.
Needing to strike back now, Rovers upped the tempo, with Greene straying offside a couple of times before Roger Tamba M’Pinda saw yellow for chopping down Jack Byrne.
Trying to play out from the back, Rovers gifted Apollon a chance to double their lead just past the half hour. Aaron McEneff lost possession to Aguirre who fed Serge Gakpe. The former Togo international’s powerful drive was parried by Mannus but skipper Fotis Papoulis, their scorer in Tallaght, was unable to capitalise on the rebound.
Mannus then made the save of the half on 35 minutes. Gianniotas was found in room just over 20 yards out and looked to find the top corner with a curling right-foot shot but Mannus went full stretch to push the ball out for a corner.
Mannus was on his toes again three minutes before the break, tipping over the bar from Zelaya’s thumping free kick from some 35 yards out.
Thanks to Greene’s hard running up front, Rovers began the second half on the front foot and enjoyed their first real spell of possession.
However, Roger Tamba M’Pinda relieved the pressure on Apollon with a surging run and struck a shot that Mannus got down well to hold.
Apollon doubled their lead from their second corner on 64 minutes. Zelaya’s effort found Diego Aguirre, whose shot was parried by Mannus, but Attila Szalai, just on the pitch, followed up to blast the ball home.
But the game changed completely in a madcap couple of minutes. First Sean Kavanagh and Fotis Papoulis tangled on the near touchline and the
Rovers’ left-back was yellowed-carded with the Apollon skipper shown a straight red.
When that calmed down Rovers pulled a goal back to level the tie on aggregate on 68 minutes. Very little appeared on when Greene struck a sublime shot from 25 yards but the ball arrowed into the top left corner of Joel Mall’s net for a stunning strike.
The remainder of the 90 minutes, plus five minutes of added time, failed to produce anything of note. Extra-time began badly for Rovers, though, with defender Lee Grace shown a second yellow card and sent off four minutes in following a bodycheck on Ioannis Pittas.
Apollon then struck for the winner on 101 minutes. Zelaya threaded a ball through for the run of substitute Adrian Sardinero, who drilled his shot across Mannus into the far corner fo the net.
Rovers substitute Dylan Watts had a late chance, but saw his volley from Kavanagh’s cross pushed out by Mall.
APOLLON LIMASSOL: Mall; Joao Pedro, Yuste, Kyriakou (Pereyra, 105), Aguirre; Markovic, Tamba M’Pinda (Szalai, 58); Gianniotas (Pittas, 90), Papoulis, Gakpe (Sardinero, 78); Zelaya.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus; O’Brien (Watts, 83), Lopes, Grace; Boyle, McEneff (O’Neill, 75), Byrne, Bolger (Oluwa, 105), Kavanagh; Finn (Carr, 86), Greene.
Referee: Michael Tykgaard (Denmark).