O'Neill: Hoops in hot spot
Euro schedule is a struggle, says Rovers boss after sinking Bray
SHAMROCK ROVERS survived a test of their domestic ambitions, now they have to go away and put their foreign policies under scrutiny as they prepare to face Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League.
And in the aftermath of yesterday's 5-2 home win over Bray Wanderers, where Rovers had to come from a goal down to beat a 10-man Bray side, Hoops' manager Michael O'Neill admits that competing on two fronts is not easy for his players, as confidence won by domestic gains can be rapidly eaten up by a defeat in Europe.
Yesterday's victory puts Rovers level on points with leaders Sligo Rovers, but the Hoops have a game in hand and their next league game is at home to a struggling Drogheda United side.
The win was a welcome response from the players to their FAI Cup defeat last week, and sends them off to England for Thursday's game against Spurs with confidence restored as it was the Hoops' first win in five games.
O'Neill admits it's not easy to deliver on both fronts.
"The players finds it difficult, they've not experienced this before," said O'Neill, who also felt that his players yesterday showed the benefits from a rare break, the squad given three days off after last Monday's Cup defeat in Sligo.
"The European thing is fantastic to be involved in, but you want momentum in your team, you get momentum from winning games. Sligo Rovers have that momentum of winning at the moment, they lost it around the time of their European involvement but they have it back now, Pats have a momentum behind them.
"Unfortunately for us we have to play top-class opposition so our momentum is being broken up. We can win a domestic game but then we have to go and play Rubin Kazan, the psychology of being able to say 'we haven't been beaten in five or six games' is more difficult.
"The players, hopefully, can put the European thing where it is, ring-fence it and say 'right, we have six league games left. If we win them then we win the league and it's as simple as that.' We have to keep the European side away from the domestic side in terms of the mental side of the game for the players.
"Until now we haven't discussed Tottenham for one second, the players don't even know what the travel arrangements are at this point in time. That's the best way to do it. We didn't give them any information on Kazan until after the St Pats game.
"Playing games is easier when you're winning than when you're not winning. We had a period there where we were not winning games on the back of the European thing, so the games become more difficult as they come along.
"So it was important for us to win that game yesterday and now we'll approach Thursday and look forward to it, then deal with the league when it comes around next Sunday," added the Rovers boss.
The game had all the hallmarks of a nightmare for the home side as Bray took the lead on 26 minutes with a well-taken shot by Jake Kelly.
But the game turned on its head 10 minutes later, when Bray had their right back Shane O'Connor sent off -- harshly -- for a second bookable offence, and Bray's plans were further disrupted just after that when manager Pat Devlin was sent from the dugout by referee Richie Winter for protesting at his player's dismissal. Bray heads seemed to drop and Gary McCabe did enough to get Rovers level just before the half-time break.
In first-half injury-time a slip by Bray keeper Darren Quigley almost gifted a chance to Rohan Ricketts, and the former Spurs man did manage to beat Quigley on 50 minutes with a free kick which deceived the Bray netminder. Once McCabe made it 3-1 on 57 minutes with a superb right foot shot, it was game over.
The scoring was not over, though, as Ronan Finn made up for a poor first-half display with a well-taken goal on 67 minutes, while Gary Twigg launched a single-handed campaign to add more goals for the Hoops -- being denied repeatedly before he finally hit the back of the net in the final minute with a header from Billy Dennehy's cross. Kelly's injury-time goal was mere consolation for Wanderers who suffered defeat for the fourth time in five games.
O'Neill added: "We didn't start the game particularly well before the goal and the conditions were difficult. We created some of our own problems and went behind, we huffed and puffed a bit. But to be fair to us we started to play in the last 15 minutes or so of the first half, we deservedly got ourselves level, and the players enjoyed the second half a lot more."