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rory-gaffney-on-the-attack Rory Gaffney on the attack for Shamrock Rovers. Source: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO

Result – Uefa Europa League third qualifying round

  • Shkupi 1-2 Shamrock Rovers

*****

Evening all. It’s a huge night for Shamrock Rovers as they stand on the cusp of European group stage football.

They face into the second leg of their Europa League third qualifying round against Shkupi in a brilliant position after last week’s 3-1 win in Tallaght.

Tonight they head to North Macedonia to the Todor Proeski Arena in Skopje.

Kick-off is 8pm and we’ll be following all the action.

And the team news is in.

Three changes for Shamrock Rovers from last week’s first leg. Daniel Cleary, Richie Towell and Aaron Greene all come into the starting side. Sean Gannon and Graham Burke drop to the bench, while Chris McCann is out through injury.

Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Daniel Cleary, Sean Hoare, Lee Grace; Ronan Finn, Richie Towell, Gary O’Neill, Andy Lyons; Dylan Watts, Aaron Greene; Rory Gaffney.

  • Subs: Leon Pohls, Tom Leitis, Sean Gannon, Graham Burke, Sean Kavanagh, Jack Byrne, Justin Ferizaj, Gideon Tetteh, Aidomo Emakhu, Neil Farrugia.

What of the hosts then as they seek to turn things around in this second leg? Three changes for them as well, in to the team comes Blerton Sheji, Ali Adem and Pepip Georgiev.

FC Shkupi: Kristijan Naumovski (captain); Angelce Timovski, Senghor Faustin, Gagi Margvelashvili, Blerton Sheji; Ali Adem, Freddy Alvarez, Queven; Pepi Georgiev, Sundat Adetunji, Diene Albert Lamane.

The permutations in relation to tonight’s game.

If Shamrock Rovers win tonight, they are through to the play-off qualifying round of the Europa League against the losers of Ferencvaros of Hungary and Qarabag of Azerbaijan. Should Rovers lose that tie they will drop into the group phase of the third-tier Conference League, so group stage qualification is assured one way or another if they win tonight.

If they are knocked out by Shkupi tonight, then it will be a playoff round for the Conference League that awaits Stephen Bradley’s side. The draw for that will pit them against Faroe Islands team KI or Kosovo’s FC Ballkani.

On that note some potentially significant news from Budapest in tonight’s Champions League qualifier second leg. It kicked off at 7pm there and Qarabag have gone ahead 1-0 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate. The goal arriving early for the Azerbaijan side from Abdellah Zoubir.

roberto-lopes-and-chris-mccann Roberto Lopes and Chris McCann. Source: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO

ronan-finn Ronan Finn. Source: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO

How have the two sides reached this stage then?

Shamrock Rovers began their European campaign in the Champions League qualifiers with a 3-0 aggregate win over Hibernians of Malta. They then lost out 4-2 to Bulgarian side Ludogorets, the damage done in their 3-0 first leg defeat away from home before they mounted a stirring response in winning 2-1 at home for the second leg.

Incidentally it’s not going too well tonight for Ludogorets in the Champions League. Approaching half-time of their second leg in Croatia, they’re losing 3-0 on the night to Dinamo Zagreb, are down 5-1 on aggregate and have been reduced to 10 men.

Shkupi got past Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps 3-2 in their Champions League opener before falling to Dinamo Zagreb 3-2, an impressive 2-2 draw away from home following by a 1-0 defeat in Skopje.

We’re underway! Game on in Skopje.

2 mins - Shkupi are quickly into their stride. Ali shoots wide and then Timovski’s effort is blocked away by Lee Grace for a corner. Rovers manage to deal with that set piece but soon concede another corner.

3 mins - Nothing comes of that corner either from Shkupi but Rovers will be keen to start pushing the play down the other end.

3 mins - Good opening for Rovers as Rory Gaffney smacks in a fine left-foot that the keeper touches onto the post and concedes a corner.

6 mins - Another big chance for Rovers! Terrific build-up with Greene, Gaffney and Finn involved as the play is sprayed across the penalty box but Richie Towell just can’t round it off under pressure form the covering Shkupi defence as they concede another corner.

7 mins - Rory Gaffney looking really lively early on when moving down the left flank for Rovers. He’s hit the woodwork and had a role in fashioning another chance, with not even 10 minutes on the clock yet.

8 mins - A third corner of the night for Shamrock Rovers prompted by an Aaron Greene shot that is forced behind. The signs are positive for the away team, they’re not sitting back here.

10 mins - There’s certainly an element early on of Shkupi pushing on, they look intent on chasing down this two-goal deficit from an early stage. Still scoreless though in Skopje.

14 mins - Shkupi go close! A swift counter-attack from a throw deep in defence sees them stretch Shamrock Rovers in midfield, Queven surges through, moves infield and from the edge of the box sends a drive whistling past the right-hand post.

18 mins - Shkupi not giving Alan Mannus much time to boom his drop kicks forward, they’re pressing furiously on that and blocked him there but the ball diverted to a Shamrock Rovers defender.

  • No goals in Skopje but there’s been another goal in Budapest, Qarabag going ahead 2-0 against Ferencvaros as Ibrahima Wadji nets. An hour gone there and Qarabag are on course to progress. That means if Shamrock Rovers progress here, it’ll be Ferencvaros they’ll be playing next Tuesday night in the Europa League play-off round.

20 mins - A yellow card to Ronan Finn, the Shamrock Rovers player the first of the night to booked. Shenji raced clear on the left wing and the retreating Finn committed the foul.

22 mins - The free-kick was in a dangerous position but Rovers dealt with it capably and the subsequent cross before then they countered at pace, Greene trying to release Gaffney before Sheji hacked him down around halfway and he too is shown a yellow card. Midway through the first half and so far, so good for Shamrock Rovers!

ronan-finn-with-kristijan-naumovski Source: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO

rory-gaffney-takes-a-shot-on-goal Rory Gaffney fires an effort on goal. Source: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO

27 mins - Decent effort from Aaron Greene after Rory Gaffney switched it inside to him, Greene trying from distance to bend his left-foot shot into the far corner. It’s just set a bit too far wide and flies wide of the post but more encouraging stuff from Shamrock Rovers.

32 mins - Shkupi nearly profit from a setpiece! A free-kick from the left is swung in, flicked goalward in a packed penalty area and it’s the defender Senghor that gets on the end of it but flicks the shot over. Soon after Queven lines one up from distance but Mannus tracks it all the way and smothers the ball.

37 mins - Huge chance for Shamrock Rovers! Finn and Greene put massive pressure on Shkupi as try to play it out through the goalkeeper Naumovski, he leaves his defender short and Finn nips in to win the ball, keeps his composure and plays it across to Towell. The shot is well-struck but Shkupi are scrambling at the back with Senghor sticking out his leg to block it on the line. Gaffney smacks in the rebound and Naumovski gets back to block.

44 mins - Couple of brilliant crunching tackles by Lee Grace to halt Shkupi players as they attacked and looked to create an overlap on the right.

Just the one minute of injury time to be played at the end of the first half.

46 mins - Another yellow for Shkupi as Ali Adem is booked.

And Shamrock Rovers are halfway there! It’s been all positive at the back for Stephen Bradley’s side given their 3-1 advantage from the first leg as they’ve kept a clean sheet despite plenty possession for Shkupi. 

The night could be looking even better for Rovers as they’ve had a few clear sights of goal themselves. Rory Gaffney banged in a shot that hit the post while Richie Towell has had two efforts, one denied by the goalkeeper Naumovski and the other cleared off the line by Senghor after Rovers cut Shkupi apart.

0-0 it is at the break, we’ll be back shortly with the second-half action!

Second-half action is underway in Skopje!

46 mins - Just the three half-time changes for Shkupi. Into the team comes Trapanovski, Brdarovski and Dzelil, while Ali, Sheji and Lamane all come off.

Should have mentioned that it’s all over in Budapest with Qarabag running out 3-1 winners in tonight’s Champions League qualifier against Ferencvaros, 4-2 victors on aggregate.

So that means whoever wins in Skopje will be taking on the Hungarian side next week.

52 mins - Another yellow card for Shkupi, their fourth of the night.

55 mins - Rovers soaking up the pressure so far as Shkupi whipping in a couple of crosses from the right wing.

58 mins - A real chance for Shkupi but Trapanovski blazes over from the penalty spot after Alvarez played him through, a really swift transition there from the home side. They’re still chasing that breakthrough though.

61 mins - Just past the hour mark now and Shamrock Rovers haven’t made much attacking headway in this half, it’s been largely dictated by Shkupi. No goals yet though and Shamrock Rovers can rely on that cushion from the first leg, that late Gary O’Neill strike really has made a difference.

  • Sub: Change for Shamrock Rovers as Graham Burke enters the action and Richie Towell makes way.

65 mins - And Rovers hit the net through Rory Gaffney! Is that the strike that seals their progress and means they are guaranteed European group stage football this season?

66 mins - The goal comes from a Graham Burke pass that finds Gaffney in space, a really meaningful contribution from the substitute. Gaffney has the option of Greene on his right but unleashes a shot that benefits from the fortune of a deflection that takes it up over the goalkeeper and that looping shot opens the scoring.

1-0 on the night, 4-1 on aggregate and at the other end Mannus makes a fine save to keep his clean sheet.

Subs: Sean Kavanagh and Sean Gannon come in for Shamrock Rovers. It’s two of the heroes on the night that come off, the outstanding Ronan Finn and the goalscorer Rory Gaffney.

73 mins - It’s Mannus again that deals with a low piledriver from Alvarez that bounces awkwardly but the Rovers goalkeeper is able to push it away for the corner that is headed wide.

Sub: Two more subs for Shkupi, Kalanoski and Demiri are in for Gorgiev and Timovski. Ten minutes left to mount a miracle from their view. Dylan Watts sees yellow for Shamrock Rovers.

Subs: Two more changes for Shamrock Rovers. Andy Lyons and Aaron Greene make way, it’s Neil Farrugia and Aidomo Emakhu who are in.

85 mins - That surely seals it for Shamrock Rovers! It’s the substitute Aidomo Emakhu who gets the second of the night, again an assist from Graham Burke creates the opening. Burke lofts a ball over the top, Shkupi goalkeeper Naumovski comes out to challenge and misses the ball, allowing the striker the simple task of planting his shot into the empty net.

88 mins - Rory Gaffney is the man-of-the-match choice of Graham Gartland on LOI TV.

90 mins - Five minutes of stoppage time to be negotiated and then Shamrock Rovers can celebrate. A 5-1 aggregate advantage is a comfortable one. 

94 mins - A consolation for Adetunji as he slots home, Shamrock Rovers lost possession on the edge of their box and Shkupi at last get a goal, not that it’s going to affect the outcome here.

A quite brilliant night’s work for Shamrock Rovers. Goals from Rory Gaffney and Aidomo Emakhu in the second half sealed their progress, a late Shkupi consolation couldn’t stop Stephen Bradley’s side from progressing 2-1 on the night, 5-2 on aggregate.

They’re guaranteed European group stage football this season. Thanks for joining our coverage this evening, we’ll have report and reaction shortly from Gavin Cooney. Bye!

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Fintan O'Toole

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