Shamrock Rovers 0 Rubin Kazan 3: This was history, not fantasy.
Rovers get reality checko’neill’s braves ARE SIMPLY BLOWN AWAY BY RUTHLESS RUSSIANSFlattened: Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Ryan Thompson lies beaten after Rubin Kazan’s Gokdeniz Karadeniz put the Russians 3-0 in Tallaght last nightINPHO
For Shamrock Rovers, the reality of entering unchartered territory was an experience like this. Two teams from different worlds collided and logic won out. Rubin Kazan live in a different world, and it showed.
They kicked off their Europa League campaign with a relatively comfortable victory.
Regret lingered in Rovers minds as they made their way home. What if they hadn't shipped a goal so early? What if they had taken some of their second-half opportunities?
But their manager Michael O'Neill is a realist and lived up to that billing.
“If we're brutally honest our best chances came when we were three goals down,” he said.
“There'll be a sense of deflation, but that will go away. If you look at the fee they paid for Obafemi Martins — £17 million — we could probably run our club for 10 years off that. That just shows the difference in the financial landscape.
“But, in the cold light of day, we'll take the positives from this for the games that lie ahead.”
The road to this momentous day had been built on an uphill stretch.
Regrettably, this Rovers team have an unfortunate habit of starting poorly at this level Just two minutes had elapsed when they shipped a soft goal that stunned the giddy crowd. It was too easy, almost like slow motion.
Turkish international Gokdeniz Karadeniz, who had only arrived on the morning of the game due to visa problems, ghosted away from Pat Sullivan and paved the way for Martins to steer the ball into the bottom corner.
The gameplan was tossed out the window.
In reality, on the balance of play, the Dubliners were relieved to go in trailing by just a goal at the break. They had a combination of heroics from goalkeeper Ryan Thompson and wastefulness from Paraguay international Nelson Valdez to thank for that.
Valdez had flashed off target shortly after Martin's opener and the recent £4.4m acquisition was afforded a chance to atone when the Nigerian was clumsily hauled to the ground by Craig Sives in the penalty area. Hungarian referee Zsolt Szabo pointed to the spot without hesitation.
Valdez stepped up and fired at the feet of Thompson who really deserves credit for clambering to his feet and getting a hand to the rebound before a posse of maroon shirts could follow up.
The hope for the Tallaght faithful was that their charges would bounce out with renewed purpose. Regrettably, the opposite scenario developed and Rubin doubled their lead almost instantaneously. Skipper Christian Noboa lingered at the edge of the box and produced a stunning strike when a Conor McCormack clearance dropped into his path.
Its impact could have been cancelled out from the restart with Ronan Finn heading straight at Rzyhikov from close range.
“That was a key moment. maybe at 2-1, it would have been a different game,” said O’Neill.
That proved to be Finn's last contribution; a double switched followed which brought Ciaran Kilduff and Billy Dennehy into the fray. McCormack was also withdrawn.
While Kilduff's arrival gave the Dubliners another outlet in forward areas, Rubin clinically responded with a third. The elusive Karadeniz swivelled to smash a right footed strike that found its target off the underside of the crossbar.
By now, the home fans had reassessed their aims. They just wanted to see a goal and the prime opportunity was created when Gary Twigg slipped away from the giant Cesar Navas, instigating the foul which resulted in another spot kick.
Stephen O'Donnell's cool conversion in Belgrade earned Rovers the ticket to this level, but he faced a lengthy wait as both benches brought on fresh legs. Sergei Rzyhikov read the Galway man's intentions and stuck out a boot to prevent the consolation.
“Maybe tonight was a good thing for the players because they will see what is required at this level,” said O’Neill.
“The only way to deal with the quality we've faced is to encounter it on a regular basis, and we don't get the chance to do that.”
The romantics may have left disappointed, the pragamatists will appreciate that the real fairytale was making this day possible.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Thompson, Sullivan, Sives, Murray, Stevens; Finn (Kilduff 55), O'Donnell, McCormack (Dennehy 55), Rice, Ricketts (Turner 63); Twigg.
RUBIN KAZAN: Ryzhikov; Kaleshin (Ansaldi 73), Sharonov, Cesar Navas, Bocchetti; Noboa, Natcho; Martins (Bystrov 45), Ryazantsev, Karadeniz; Valdez (Dyadyun 63).
Referee: Zsolt Szabo (Hungary).