Keena scored the only goal of the game. Craig Watson/INPHO

Brilliant Keena strike sees Sligo record shock European win against Motherwell

The Bit O’Red were 1-0 winners at Fir Park.

Motherwell 0

Sligo Rovers 1

Jessica Farry reports from Fir Park

SLIGO ROVERS HAVE the upper hand going into their second leg tie against Motherwell in the Europa Conference League second qualifying round as they shocked the Scottish Premier League side at Fir Park.

Rovers are leading 1-0 thanks to a lob from Aidan Keena early in the first-half, in what was a superb performance from the Bit O’Red.

Rovers were thanking their lucky stars after they progressed from the first round of the Europa Conference League qualifiers with a penalty shoot-out victory over Welsh side Bala Town.

Manager John Russell acknowledged his side would need to be much better travelling to Scotland in order to get any result, considering their opponents came into this came as heavy favourites.

The Bit O’Red confirmed earlier on Thursday that the penalty shoot-out hero Ed McGinty departed the club for Oxford, meaning Luke McNicholas played his second consecutive game for Rovers.

McNicholas played for Rovers in Europe last year against FH, so he is well equipped to deal with such an occasion.

For Rovers, Frank Liivak, Max Mata and Nando Pijnaker dropped to the bench following the defeat to UCD with Adam McDonnell, Karl O’Sullivan and Garry Buckley coming in.

Former St Patrick’s Athletic defender Jake Carroll was among the starters for Mothewell, while former Bohs man Ross Tierney started the game on the bench.

Around 500 Bit O’Red fans made the trip to Motherwell, and they were certainly rewarded with an excellent first-half from the visitors.

sligo-fans-celebrate-aidan-keena-scoring-their-first-goal Around 500 Sligo fans made the trip to Scotland. Craig Watson / INPHO Craig Watson / INPHO / INPHO

Will Fitzgerald almost got on the end of a dangerous cross with 30 seconds on the clock in what was a bright start for the Bit O’Red, the home fans relieved when they saw the effort sail over.

Josh Morris hit the Rovers side netting following a cross from Connor Shields, but the Bit O’Red were defending well.

A clever point blank save by Liam Kelly denied Rovers an opener after nine minutes when Lewis Banks tried to poke the ball past the Motherwell ‘keeper when Garry Buckley hooked the cross in.

Luke McNicholas was called into action on 16 minutes when he punched an effort clear, the follow up from Barry Maguire drifting wide.

The hosts will wonder how they didn’t go ahead on 22 minutes. As Kevin Van Veen burst forward, he squared it to Morris although he might wonder if he should have had a go himself.

McNicholas came off his line and put pressure on Morris, forcing him to play it back, with the chance coming to nothing.

Rovers arguably had the best of the early chances, although Motherwell had a lot of the ball in what was a fairly even opening to the game.

adam-mcdonnell-with-ross-tierney Sligo’s Adam McDonnell with Ross Tierney of Motherwell. Craig Watson / INPHO Craig Watson / INPHO / INPHO

The vocal home support was silenced on 27 minutes when Rovers took the lead thanks to a defensive mishap.

Bevis Mugabi tried to head it back to his goalkeeper Liam Kelly, but clearly didn’t anticipate Keena’s offensive instincts.

There was nowhere near enough power on that header, and Keena pounced, forcing Kelly out of position to try put him off.

But there’s no putting off the League of Ireland Premier Division’s top scorer, and the Mullingar man lobbed the goalkeeper cooly to send the away fans into wild celebrations.

Stunned, the Steelmen were working hard to break down the Rovers defence, but this proved to be quite a tricky task, as McNicholas held onto a number of efforts from Maguire, before Shields somehow pulled a shot wide from a couple of yards away from goal.

Shortly after the re-start, McNicholas had to be on his toes to get behind a powerful drive from Van Veen.

Boos rang out in Fir Park repeatedly as the home fans were far from happy to see their side give Rovers so many chances.

Karl O’Sullivan’s cross was met by Fitzgerald on 60 minutes at the far post but the Limerick native couldn’t keep his effort down.

Graham Alexander’s side upped the ante somewhat, and enjoyed a good spell of possession.

They did, however, struggle to create chances, with Ross Tierney firing wide with his first slice of the action.

Remarkably, it was the visitors who almost scored again on 77. Keena picked out substitute Max Mata who had just come on seconds previous.

The New Zealander charged down on goal and was one-on-one with the ‘keeper, but couldn’t take his effort around Liam Kelly.

A close range header from the 23-year-old was then deflected wide, with claims for a handball waved away by the referee.

Motherwell couldn’t do anywhere near enough to trouble the Rovers defence, and will now travel to Sligo next week trailing 1-0.

Motherwell: Liam Kelly; Paul McGinn, Rickie Lamie, Bevis Mugabi, Jake Carroll; Barry Maguire, Callum Slattery, Blair Spittal (Joe Efford, 74); Kevin Van Veen, Josh Morris, Connor Shields (Ross Tierney, 64).

Sligo Rovers: Luke McNicholas; Lewis Banks, Shane Blaney, Garry Buckley, Paddy Kirk; David Cawley, Niall Morahan, Adam McDonnell (Max Mata, 77); Karl O’Sullivan, Will Fitzgerald; Aidan Keena.  

Referee: Kari Hovdanum (Faroe Islands)  

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