Tuesday 15 October 2019

Byrne best for Hoops: Midfielder to the fore as Rovers have another great Euro night

Shamrock Rvrs 2 Apollon 1

CONGRATS: Lee Grace (c) is surrounded by team-mates after grabbing the home side’s first goal at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: PA
CONGRATS: Lee Grace (c) is surrounded by team-mates after grabbing the home side’s first goal at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: PA

For a second successive Thursday, Tallaght heaved at the final whistle.

European nights are bringing the best out of a Shamrock Rovers side that is steadily finding their way under Stephen Bradley and this first leg triumph gives them the platform to travel to Cyprus with confidence.

Apollon Limassol are an opponent with a solid pedigree. They registered victories over Lazio and Marseille in the group stages of last year's Europa League.

But they have a battle on their hands to stay in this year's competition after a Hoops side that was again inspired by the invention of Jack Byrne secured a deserved success in front of 5,500 entertained spectators. The 50 or so that had made their way here from Limassol weren't as enthused by it all.

For the second night on the trot, an Irish side found themselves behind inside five minutes.

Dundalk's concession on Wednesday was slapstick, but Rovers were undone by an instinctively brilliant strike from Apollon captain Fotis Papoulis, with his right-footed half volley from 20 yards arrowing past Alan Mannus into the roof of the net.

Rovers had fallen behind on three occasions in their win over Brann in the first round so this was familiar territory. Their response was measured, with the natives actually enjoying a good spell where they kept possession and gradually forced the pressure that resulted in a leveller.

Byrne sent in a corner that was dispatched goalwards by the head of defender Lee Grace with his header appearing to cross the line off the inside of the post. Dan Carr was on hand to make completely sure.

Mannus was then called upon to make a number of stops, the highlight of which was a fingertip effort to deny Emilio Zelaya.

Rovers were particularly under the cosh just before the break, pegged back onto the edge of their own area.

An Apollon side, with nine different nationalites in their starting XI, sporadically showed their quality. But they didn't quite have a player like Byrne.

There was a lot of spotlight on the playmaker after his starring display against SK Brann, and his ability pulled him out of a couple of situations where the away side were trying to get tight.

Mick McCarthy had spoken earlier in the day about what the Dubliner needed to do to force a way back into the squad, indicating that he held the view that the 23-year-old dropped too deep to take the ball off the centre halves when that should be another player's job.

"Any chance he has of playing for me is him playing further forward where he can find a final pass because he can see it," said McCarthy.

The problem for Byrne before the interval was that Rovers were finding it hard to consistently work the ball into the areas where he can really hurt the opposition and he naturally dropped back in order to play a greater role. He did instigate a handful of promising moves by picking passes from a deeper position that helped to move Rovers up the park.

They resumed brightly for the second half with a purpose that naturally allowed Byrne to impose in the final third. And a period in the ascendency was rewarded by the lead goal.

It all started with Byrne wriggling free of two pursuers just inside the halfway line, setting the wheels in motion for a move that culminated in a foul on Ronan Finn. Byrne stepped up to send in a dangerous inswinger that was glanced to the net by Roberto Lopes, with the help of a nick off an Apollon defender.

Rovers initially went looking for a third with another dead ball smashed off the crossbar by the head of Grace, but they steadily began to fall deeper into their own half.

Bradley took effective action by introducing Gary O'Neill for the hard working Finn.

Substitute Aaron Greene wasted an opportunity to extend the lead on the counter, taking the ball too far wide after skipping around keeper Joel Mall, with Apollon showing signs of ill discipline.

That perception was confirmed by a rash tackle on Byrne by Esteban Sachetti that prompted a red card.

Rovers will enter the heat of Limassol with a lead and the confidence to believe that another major step forward is possible.     

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