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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Shamrock Rovers' Rory Gaffney celebrates scoring a goal with teammates.
# Report
Frustration as Shamrock Rovers denied famous victory in penultimate European tie
The Hoops still secured €166,000 in prize money thanks to tonight’s draw with Gent.

Shamrock Rovers 1

Gent 1

SHAMROCK ROVERS had to settle for a 1-1 draw at home to Gent in the Europa Conference League tonight, despite having led for the majority of the contest.

Rory Gaffney’s header gave the Irish side an early lead before substitute Hyunseok Hong levelled proceedings with 16 minutes remaining shortly after youngster Justin Ferizaj was dismissed for a second booking.

It was a disappointing conclusion to a fine performance from the League of Ireland team, who came agonisingly close to securing a first-ever group stage victory in a European competition.

Rovers went into this game knowing they could not advance from the group, with the recent home defeat against Molde ending any chance of progression.

However, after they were crowned Premier Division champions earlier in the week, this match suddenly became more of a priority than their league fixtures, with prize money of €500,000 on offer for a win and €166,000 for a draw.

Meanwhile, Gent, who are currently fifth in their domestic league, started today third in the group but with a chance of progression, as they trailed second-place Molde by three points.

The hosts made three changes from Friday’s 4-1 win over St Patrick’s Athletic that had left them on the brink of the title before Derry’s slip-up confirmed their triumph.

Jack Byrne, Graham Burke, Gary O’Neill and Ronan Finn all missed out on the matchday squad, with O’Neill also missing the Saints encounter.

As a consequence, Neil Farrugia, Sean Kavanagh and Dylan Watts came into the starting XI.

Gent were also missing a number of important first-team players — just five of the individuals who started in their 3-0 win in the reverse fixture featured from the outset this time around.

Rovers got off to the perfect start after just three minutes. Watts found Farrugia on the left. He then slipped it to Richie Towell, whose inch-perfect cross was headed home by Gaffney from close range.

Tallaght erupted in reaction, as the Hoops celebrated their first goal of this group-stage campaign.

The visitors almost hit back with an immediate response, A corner was only half-cleared — it fell to Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, who scored a brace the last time the sides met, but the midfielder’s powerful first-time shot was a few inches off target.

Gaffney was looking lively and almost got his second with a powerful low drive that was touched onto the post by goalkeeper Paul Nardi after good build-up play from the Irish side.

Mannus was then called into action for the first time in the 20th minute — the goalkeeper had to be alert to keep out Laurent Depoitre’s header following a well-worked Gent move.

The Premier Division champions were dealt a blow moments later — Watts picked up a knock and had to go off, with 17-year-old midfielder Ferizaj taking his place.

Just seconds after his introduction, the teenager received one of the quickest yellow cards in history for pulling the shirt of Joseph Okumu as the defender attempted to evade his opponent.

There was more bad news for Rovers on the injury front not long after, as experienced star Chris McCann was forced off. 

With not too many obvious replacements on the bench, Lee Grace came in with defender Sean Hoare subsequently moving into a less familiar midfield role.

Rovers were still looking strong though — another dangerous Towell cross forced Matisse Samoise to head behind for a corner, but nothing came from the ensuing set piece.

Just before half-time, it was the Belgians’ turn to threaten. Mannus pulled off a fine save to deny Andrew Hjulsager’s curled effort from the edge of the area, tipping it away for a corner in what was the closest the away side had come to scoring up to that point.

Grace then had to be alert on the brink of half-time, getting to a cross and clearing just ahead of the lurking Ibrahim Salah.

A couple of hundred Gent fans travelled over for the match and expressed audible disapproval of their team’s efforts as the half-time whistle sounded with Rovers somewhat unexpectedly in the lead.

rory-gaffney-heads-past-paul-nardi-to-score-his-sides-first-goal Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

The visitors started on the front foot after the break, with Salah firing a pot shot a few inches wide.

Moments later, Roberto Lopes made a last-ditch block to prevent what looked like a certain goal.

The pressure was mounting and Towell had to make a goal-line clearance to prevent Bruno Godeau, with Gent then almost punished on the counter-attack as Farrugia saw his goalbound attempt blocked. 

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The same player then threatened to burst through on goal following another purposeful attack, but Samoise got back to make a timely interception.

Rovers were in the ascendancy and Gaffney had the ball in the net again following a clinical finish from Kavanagh’s deep cross and Hoare’s knockdown, but the latter was correctly ruled out for offside much to the home crowd’s frustration.

There were further nervy moments for the home fans such as when Daniel Cleary headed just over his own crossbar following a dangerous cross into the area.

With 18 minutes remaining, Rovers were still looking relatively comfortable but out of nothing, Ferizaj’s late challenge saw him pick up a second booking in a game-changing incident that handed the visitors some much-needed momentum.

Moments later, Gent equalised. Godeau’s low cross was slotted home first time by Hong to give his side a lifeline.

The 10 men of Rovers were reeling and Sven Kums was presented with a golden opportunity after being played through on goal, but his tame finish was easily saved by Mannus.

With their man advantage, Gent unsurprisingly dominated the closing stages but Rovers held on to secure a draw that brings their overall earnings from European success this year close to €4 million.

Shamrock Rovers: 1 Alan Mannus 3. Sean Hoare 4. Roberto Lopes 6. Daniel Cleary 7. Dylan Watts (Ferizaj 24) 11. Sean Kavanagh 26. Chris McCann (Grace 34) 17. Richie Towell (Serdeniuk 90) 20. Rory Gaffney (Gannon 90) 22. Andy Lyons 23. Neil Farrugia

Subs: 25. Leon Pohls 30. Toms Leitis 2. Sean Gannon 5. Lee Grace 18. Viktor Serdeniuk 21. Justin Ferizaj 28. Gideon Tetteh 32. Michael Leddy

Gent: 1. Paul Nardi 2. Joseph Okumu 31. Bruno Godeau 5. Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui. 8. Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe (Van Der Bergh 88) 22. Sulayman Marreh (Kums 46) 10.  Jens Petter Hauge (Hong 61) 18. Matisse Samoise 29. Laurent Depoitre 16. Ibrahim Salah (Fortuna 75) 17. Andrew Hjulsager

Subs: 33. Davy Roof 40. Rene Vanden Borre 7. Hyunseok Hong 11. Hugo Cuypers 15. Bram Lagae 24. Sven Kums 25. Nurio Fortuna 27. Rune Van Der Bergh

Referee: Julian Weinberger

Attendance: 6,203

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