Chastening night for Shamrock Rovers as they are outclassed by Hungarian side Ferencvaros

Ferencvaros 4

Shamrock Rovers 0

SHAMROCK ROVERS ARE heading for the Europa Conference League group phase after a chastening night in Budapest, outclassed 4-0 by Hungarian champions Ferencvaros. A second leg at Tallaght is still to come, but on this evidence, that will be a night of mitigation rather than miracles.

Although Ferencvaros were superb, Rovers’ review of the goals conceded will find cause for introspection, particularly the deadening, calamitous goal conceded three minutes after half-time.

Uefa’s preliminary rounds have become a game of snakes and ladders, and this was a play-off for the second-tier Europa League groups, with a consolation prize of a spot in the third-tier Conference League handed out to the loser. Rovers’ appearance in this game was a major achievement, whereas Ferencvaros’ was a disappointment – ​​they were knocked out of the Champions League by Qarabag last week.

Thus Rovers picked a bad time to become beset by unavailability, including captain Ronan Finn through suspension and European regulars Chris McCann, Aidomo Emakhu and Graham Burke because of injury and illness. They had the further complication of the heat, as the game was curiously moved to an earlier kick-off time and started as temperatures hit 36-degrees.

This at least meant a first-half water break, but Rovers were gasping for breath much earlier than that. Ferencvaros started with pace and intent, and Moroccan forward Ryan Mmaee cut inside and bent a shot off the post after only eight minutes. Ferencvaros were ahead five minutes later, a fact Rovers could not quibble with on the balance of play if not the manner of the goal.

Andy Lyons blocked Nguyen Tokmac’s shot behind for a corner, which Ferencvaros played short before midfielder Aissa Laidouni whipped into the box. Dan Cleary and Lee Grace challenged for the same ball but saw it bounce off Mats Knoester, who stood between them, and Carlos Auzqui steered the ball in from close range.

Rovers did steady immediately after that, and Gary O’Neill’s fleet of feet escaped from some Ferencvaros pressing and sent Andy Lyons down the left wing, whose cross was just too high for Aaron Green at the front post.

Ferencvaros had another gear, however, and they hit it again before half-time. Their Sporting Director revealed that he didn’t watch Rovers play in deriding their style as an “unpleasant, British” but their scouting department definitely did their job. Laidouni was picked in midfield and he dropped off and constantly found space inside Sean Gannon at right wing-back and outside Dylan Watts to the right of Rovers’ central midfield trio, and it was from that position he created the second goal, sliding the ball through for Mmaee, who pulled the ball across for Adama Traore to tap home.

It might have been worse before the break for Rovers, as their trio of center backs gave a good impression of being terrified by Mmaee’s direct running. Only his own inaccuracy denied him a first-half goal, he waltzed into the box and then pinged a shot off Mannus’ other post, and he later tamely rolled a shot at Mannus when he collected Laidouni’s chopped, back-heel pass.

Stephen Bradley did not indulge in much half-time surgery – he swapped Sean Hoare and Dan Cleary’s places in the back three – but all hope evaporated within three minutes of the second half. At one moment Aaron Greene had the ball at Ferencvaros’ corner flag…and within a flash the Hungarian champions were streaking clear, three-on-two.

Mmaee popped the ball to his left for Tokmac, but it looked like Rovers had got off lightly when his shot was parried by Mannus at Sean Gannon’s feet. Gannon’s reaction was baffling and disastrous, squaring the ball across the goal to the feet of Traore, who couldn’t miss.

Rovers were being pulled every which way by Ferencvaros and Mmaee should have finally got his goal before the hour mark, denied brilliantly at point-blank range by Mannus and then ballooning the ball over from the six-yard box.

He was replaced after 63 minutes, somehow without a goal to his name. He has been strongly linked with a move to Celtic and on this showing, he will bring happiness to at least one set of Hoops.

Stephen Bradley introduced Jack Byrne for the last half-hour, and it was a testament to both the quality of the Ferencvaros press and Byrne’s personality that he was immediately dropping as deep as center-back, demanding possession and dictating play.

Rovers unsurprisingly looked a lot better with Byrne on the pitch, but they didn’t create a clear-cut chance and their injury problems were accentuated by the fact that they finished the game with promising teenagers Giddeon Tetteh and Justin Ferizaj on the pitch.

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Substitute Neil Farrugia was a dynamic replacement for Gannon, and he skated into the box and fired over from a narrow angle without spotting Tetteh in space to his left.

Alan Mannus was called on to maintain his outstanding form to deny substitutes Marquinhos and then Boli to maintain a flicker of hope.

But soon that flicker was extinguished. Mannus’ acrobatic save forced a corner which Xavier Mercier flew to the edge of the box and to substitute defender Eldar Civic, who leaned back and struck a scruffy volley that bounced through a thicket of bodies and into Mannus’ bottom corner.

It’s been a summer of improved performances from Rovers and the Irish clubs in Europe, but tonight was a sharp reminder that there are many more levels to climb.

Ferencvaros: Denis Dibusz; Lorand Paszka (Eldar Civic, 83′), Mats Knoester, Endre Botka, Henry Wingo; Muhamed Besic (Balint Vecsei, 69′), Aissa Laidouni; Carlos Auzqui (Marquinhos, 63′), Nguyen Tokmac (Xavier Mercier, 83′), Adama Traore; Ryan Mmaee (Frank Boli, 63′)

Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary, Lee Grace; Sean Gannon (Neil Farrugia, 60′); Gary O’Neill, Dylan Watts (Justin Ferizaj, 69′), Sean Kavanagh (Richie Towell, 60′); Andy Lyons; Aaron Greene (Giddeon Tetteh, 78′) Rory Gaffney (Jack Byrne, 60′)

Referee: Glenn Nyberg (Sweden)


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