FOR the first time in Tallaght and seven years after Ireland’s most storied club last tasted European action, Shamrock Rovers found that they were unable to rhyme hope and history in the Europa League last night, despite securing parity on the scoreboard with a dramatic injury time equaliser.
However, the early concession of a vital away goal means that the intense heat will probably be the least of the Hoops’ problems when they visit Tel Aviv for the second leg next Thursday
For Yehuda’s Dele Aiyenugba, last night’s game saw him swap the backdrop of Table Mountain for that of the Hell Fire Club — he’d been Nigeria’s unused second ‘keeper at the World Cup. And the rather nervous-looking number one was kept busier in the opening stages of this one, as the home side went in search of an early goal against their orange-clad opponents.
But the Israelis served their own warning of intent with a quarter of an hour gone, when it required a perfectly-timed Enda Stevens tackle in his own box to thwart a swift three-man counter attack.
Following an accidental collision with Stephen Rice, limping Yehuda striker Moshe Biton had to be replaced by Omri Afek Haftke, and Thomas Stewart came close to inflicting even more pain on the visitors moments later when, from the over-lapping Craig Sives’ dangerous cross, the striker flashed a near-post effort just wide.
But it was the substitute Haftke who caught Rovers with a real sucker punch on 26 minutes. As the home side pushed up, Egiya Yavruyan got in behind the defence on the left flank and, with Alan Mannus slow to close down the danger, the advancing ‘keeper could only deflect the ball with his foot across the face of the goal to Haftke who had the simple task of finishing to an unguarded net. Conceding an away goal is always costly — and even more so when one are given away as cheaply as this.
Almost worse was to follow for the Rovers fans as Gary Twigg spurned a great chance to level it on the stroke of half-time when, after Stewart had headed on an Enda Stevens’ cross, the ace marksman stole in at the far post. But, to the dismay of the home support, his close-range effort lacked conviction and Aiyenugba was able to avert the danger. Gary Twigg almost made amends for his miss before the break with an overhead kick which was deflected for a corner with the ‘keeper flat-footed, but the longer the game went on with Rovers failing to make the most of the most of their chances, the more Haftke’s goal grew in significance.
However, the Hoops bravely battled to the end and, with the game already in time added on, Robert Bayly finally threw them a lifeline when, after Stewart’s deep cross from the left, the substitute managed to drill the ball to the far corner of the net from the most acute of angles.
It was no less than Rovers’ efforts deserved. But, while it might be a long time since they were last in Europe, despite this late, late show, their return visit looks unlikely to be an extended one.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus, Sives, Price (Dennehy 66), Murray, Stevens, Chambers, Rice, Turner (Bayly 73), Kavanagh, Twigg, Stewart
BNEI YEHUDA: Aiyenugba, Azuz, Garrido, Hadad,Ederi, Zhairi, Hrvatsko, Baldut, Menashe (Zaid 75), Yavruyan Raly (60), Biton (Haftke 18)
Referee: Mauro Bergonzi (Italy)
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