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Hoop Dreams

McCabe keeps Rovers' European dreams alive

Shamrock Rovers have it all to play for next week after a 1-1 draw at home to FK Partizan in the Europa League playoff round.

A BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED goal by Gary McCabe revived Shamrock Rovers’ fading European dreams, earning the Airtricity League champions a 1-1 draw at home to FK Partizan of Serbia.

Michael O’Neill’s men might count themselves slightly fortunate to still be in the tie after their overly cautious approach in the opening 45 minutes threatened to cost them dearly.

It was the visitors who dominated the opening exchanges and just 14 minutes had passed when Enda Stevens allowed Vladimir Jovancic to wander into space on the right flank; his pull-back was tucked away by Nemanja Tomic from 12 yards out.

Rovers were lucky not to fall further behind seven minutes later when a long ball caught Dan Murray unawares, the centre-half’s blushes spared only by Eduardo’s inability to hit the target when one-on-one with keeper Ryan Thompson.

O’Neill undoubtedly had some strong words for his side at half-time, and it was the manager’s tactical bravery in switching to an adventurous 4-3-3 setup for the last 15 minutes that really turned the tide.

With Partizan happy to drop deep and swat away Rovers’ long throw-ins and crosses, it took a spark from midfield to get the home side back on level terms in the 81st minute.

Brought back into the side after missing last week’s win over UCD, McCabe stepped onto a loose ball thirty yards from goal and drove past Medo before exchanging a neat one-two with Gary Twigg on the edge of the box.

The winger’s cool finish belied the importance of the occasion, slotting the ball through the legs of Ivanov and into the bottom corner.

Buoyed by the equaliser, Rovers went in search of a second and very nearly had it just 90 seconds later.

Partizan failed to clear another of Sullivan’s booming throws and when the ball found its way to an onside Twigg just six yards from goal, Rovers’ top scorer was off-balance and hooked it over the bar.

Speaking to RTÉ2 after the game, O’Neill paid tribute to his players while wondering what might have been.

“In the first 15 or 20 minutes, we looked a little bit frightened of them. We maybe gave them too much respect and stood off them a little bit.

“But in the second half, I thought we got on top of them. We played a little bit more direct and we got a fantastic goal through Gary McCabe.

We just couldn’t manage to get the second goal but the tie’s still alive. It’ll be tough out there in Belgrade.

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