Shamrock Rovers 2 SK Brann 1 (Rovers win 4-3 on aggregate)
Late goals from Jack Byrne and Gary O’Neill ensured that Shamrock Rovers survived a nail-biting second half of this Europa League qualifier after the Dubliners looked to have blown the narrow advantage that had taken home from the first leg.
Karamoko Bamba’s second half strike had put Brann in control of the tie for 20 minutes before Byrne produced a magical piece of close control to evade a challenge by Ruben Kristiansen then gently lift the ball over the oncoming keeper.
The goal put the Irish side back in front by virtue of their extra away goal and ensured the Norwegians had to chase a second on the night. As they did, they were caught on the break with Byrne having a hand in things again before Gary O’Neill squeezed the ball home under pressure from Kristiansen. It was quite a time to grab his first goal for his new club.
Perhaps the biggest impact of all, though, was made by Daniel Carr who Stephen Bradley had thrown on 15 minutes from time in an effort to inject some life into an attack that generated little enough threat given the amount of possession the home side had enjoyed.
Carr had a huge impact, winning the ball under pressure for both goals then helping to hold things up again through the closing stages as the visitors desperately chased the equaliser that would have forced extra time. Bamba gave the locals a fright deep into injury time but missed the target on the turn when he should have done better and it will be Rovers who take on Apollon Limassol in the second round next week.
With the tie having been so clearly in the balance, there had been more than a touch of cat and mouse about it all earlier on but Rovers would have been the happier of the two sides at the end of an opening half in that their goalkeeper had not been seriously tested.
The best the Norwegians could manage up until then was a couple of mid-distance shots that flew a few feet off target while Ronan Finn had forced the only real save of the period when, after dispossessing Bismar Acosta Evans he tried his luck from a fair way out. The hosts had also had what looked a very good shout for a penalty under the new handball rules but the Faroese official waved all of their protests away.
Along with Byrne, whose use of the ball was outstanding at times, the Rovers skipper was one of the game’s more influential figures but they struggled to capitalise on some good approach work around the edges of the area while more direct moves were ended by offside flags.
Still, the hosts looked to be edging their way towards the next round comfortably enough until Brann grabbed a goal almost out of nothing just short of an hour in when goalkeeper Hakon Opdal’s long clearance upfield was flicked on onto space for Bamba who coolly rounded Alan Mannus before side-footing home.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; O’Brien, Lopes, Grace; Boyle, Watts (McEneff, 63 mins), Bolger, S Kavanagh; Byrne, Finn (O’Neill, 81 mins); Cummins (Carr, 75 mins).
Brann: Opdal; Teniste (Karadas, 84 mins), Acosta, Rismark, Kristiansen; Haugen, Ordagic, Strand (Jenssen, 84 mins); Rolantsson, berisha, Koomson (Bamba, half-time).
Referee: K Joannesarson a Hovdanum (Faroe Islands)