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Sunday 24 September 2017

Rovers march on with hope in their hearts

Shamrock Rovers players celebrate after Graham Burke, centre, scored their goal during last night’s Europa League First Qualifying Round Second Leg clash with Stjarnan at Tallaght Stadium. Pic: Sportsfile
Shamrock Rovers players celebrate after Graham Burke, centre, scored their goal during last night’s Europa League First Qualifying Round Second Leg clash with Stjarnan at Tallaght Stadium. Pic: Sportsfile

Shamrock Rovers finished the job they started a week earlier when defeating Iceland's Stjarnan 1-0 at Tallaght Stadium last night.

Stephen Bradley's side followed up last week's single goal win by eking out another 1-0 victory to end Stjarnan's European campaign.

In doing so Rovers added another €225,000 to the cheque that will come their way from UEFA with the current total standing at €440,000.

These ties have cup final importance for the people running the show and the celebrations at full-time told their own story.

The hosts fully deserved to advance to a second round meeting with Czech side Mlada Boleslav after a solid performance in the circumstances. The home game is next Thursday.

Stephen Bradley has exciting attacking players at his disposal, youngsters who could still go on to do very well and Ireland boss Martin O'Neill was in attendance. He must have been interested as he only left with three minutes remaining - managers keen to beat the crowds and traffic tend to leave earlier.

Three of Hoops' promising talents combined to break the deadlock and give the Dubliners a two goal cushion.

Left winger Brandon Miele started the move with a dummy that outfoxed Johann Laxdal and opened up space for a cross that the in-demand Trevor Clarke squared for Graham Burke to slot home. Burke is a special talent, but disciplinary issues have held him back this term. When he's on song, the ex-Aston Villa player is a serious option in a playmaking role and a superb left footed effort called Haraldur Bjornsson into action.

It wasn't all plain sailing for the Hoops, though. Before their opener, they endured a nervous moment in the breakdown from a set piece with Alex Por Hauksson's right footer testing Tomer Chencinski and Roberto Lopes alert to block the follow-up from Hilmar Arni Halldorsson.

Lopes also made a pair of timely blocks before the interval in a spell where the Icelandic side really pressed and the hosts dropped deeper and lost their stranglehold on the game.

They did have an opportunity when Clarke was felled on the edge of the area amid shouts for a penalty, but there was a sense that they really needed the whistle.

The pattern for the second half quickly became clear with Stjarnan piling bodies forward.Rovers looked to catch them on the break and a burst of pace from Clarke that left a 4 v 2 situation - his cross was blocked - gave a flavour of the opportunities that were available.

Stjarnan were sporadically dangerous, however, and the well travelled Chencinski earned his corn with a flying stop to deny the Halldorsson with a routine diagonal ball presenting the opening.

As the game entered its final quarter, their willingness to shoot from distance hinted at a certain desperation although Bradley was animated on the sideline as the blue shirts gathered a couple of stray clearances to take aim.

Their love of long throw-ins further tested the Hoops concentration levels and the hosts rode their luck from one Laxdal weapon that fizzed across the six yard box.

Bradley looked to his bench to see the game out and David McAllister made an important contribution to block a goalbound shot that might have set up a tense conclusion.

That was Stjarnan's last throw of the dice and Rovers had chances to put a more comfortable look on the scoreline with Michael O'Connor failing to convert a one-on-one. Ronan Finn's quality shone through in this phase.

At the death, tensions boiled over when Clarke was hacked down with the benches engaging in verbals. There were cheers when the highly rated teenager got to his feet. This Rovers show will go on.

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