TOMMY STEWART fired Shamrock Rovers into dreamland last night as his second half strike set up a clash with Italian giants Juventus.
Rovers will play host to the ‘Old Lady’ of Italian football next Thursday at Tallaght Stadium with the return leg in Turin on August 5th.
The Hoops soaked up plenty of pressure in the dead heat of Bnei Yehuda’s Bloomfield stadium last night, but with 20 minutes left on the clock they struck as Stewart pounced on Stephen Rice’s long throw in to secure a famous victory.
Manager Michael O’Neill admitted the triumph was a career highlight for himself, and said it was a magical night for the club.
“It’s huge,” he said. “Huge for the club and huge for the players to come out here and give a display like that.
“We controlled the opening 20, 25 minutes of the game, but I think Yehuda took control after that. The conditions are extreme to say the least but we knew we’d get a chance.
“We asked Tommy Stewart to play on the left and he worked unbelievably hard for us, we pushed him up front and he got us the reward with the goal.
“To a man they were brilliant, Alan Mannus had a brilliant game, Aidan Price — to be fair, they all did. Everyone of them, you couldn’t ask any more. Outstanding.’’
They could have been ahead within the opening four minutes, Gary Twigg almost prised the Yehuda defence open with a ball for Stewart, before Craig Sives beat Nigerian goalkeeper Dele Aiyenugba to Enda Stevens’ cross, but Kfir Ediri hooked the ball behind.
Dan Murray rose highest to meet James Chambers’ corner, but with Aiyenugba beaten, the ball cannoned back off the bar and Yehuda scrambled the ball clear.
After surviving those initial scares, Bnei Yehuda assumed control of the football but looked content to keep it, rather than create many openings.
It took 26 minutes for Alan Mannus to be called into action, the Hoops stopper brilliantly saving from Oz Ezra Hvratska after playmaker Liroy Zhariri had split the defence.
Mannus sprung up to again deny Ling Sinisa Hvratska’s follow up, before he looked to have been beaten by a deflection. Linig Sinisa Hvratska’s shot struck Eliya Yavruyan, but with Mannus stranded the ball spun wide.
Yavaruyan then had a low shot whistle by the post as the hot conditions seemed to take their toll on Rovers.
An injury to Stephen Rice allowed the visitors take on water, and refreshed they regained their foothold in the game and Twigg had two chances to gain the advantage.
He first headed over a Chambers cross, before the impressive Chris Turner sprung the Scot through the defence but Yehuda’s central defensive partnership of Ivan Garrido and Aviv Hadad recovered to snuff him out and Aiyenugba beat Stewart to the follow up.
Level at the break, the Hoops survived a scare early in the second half when Sinisa sprung the offside trap for Omri Hafike, but Stevens recovered to make an important intervention and Mannus saved from Yavruyan.
He then spectacularly turned over a rising drive from Sinisa Hvartska, but it was Rovers who, having soaked up the pressure, who hit the front.
Yehuda couldn’t deal with the throw in, Aidan Price got his head on the ball and with Garrido hesitant, Stewart struck.
The Israelis pressed, but could get no change out of the banks of Hooped defenders. Billy Dennehy and Rice went close to a second, but in the end one was enough.
BNEI YEHUDA: Aiyenugba; Azuz (Baldut 79), Garrido, Viktor Hadad, Ederi; Abu Zaid (Levi 90), Zhairi, Sinisa Hrvatsko (Menashe 74), Ezra Raly; Hafike, Yavruyan.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus; Sives, Murray, Price, Stevens; Chambers (Dennehy 64), Rice, Turner (Bradley 84), Bayly (Kavanagh 58), Stewart; Twigg.
Referee: Antony Gautier (FRA)
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