Sligo Rovers fans celebrate Max Mata scoring their second goal as he celebrates with teammates. Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

Sligo come from behind in Wales to record 2-1 win against Bala Town

The Bit O’Red hold the advantage ahead of next Thursday’s second leg at The Showgrounds.

Bala Town 1

Sligo Rovers 2

Jessica Farry reports from Bala

IT’S ADVANTAGE SLIGO Rovers after the first leg of their Europa Conference League First Round Qualifying tie against Bala Town of Wales, as the Bit O’Red held out to take a 2-1 win into next Thursday’s second leg, despite being reduced to 10 men.

The Welsh side went ahead after 5 minutes, but Aidan Keena and Max Mata did what they do best to give Rovers the all important victory ahead of the second leg.

The Bit O’Red came into this game as favourites, a rarity considering they have only ever won three games in Europe, and only progressed through a round once.

But, given the fact that their opponents returned to pre-season early to prepare for this side and the fact that they are part-time, coupled with Rovers’ good form, means John Russell’s side would have been expected to overcome their Welsh opposition.

Russell put his faith in the same starting 11 that beat Shelbourne at The Showgrounds last Saturday, while Bala Town manager Colin Caton named new signing Ross White in the starting 11, with former Welsh international David Edwards also among the starters.

The Rovers boss said last week that Bala were somewhat of an unknown entity coming into this game, and the hosts shocked Rovers after just six minutes when they went ahead.

Nando Pijnaker’s attempted clearance didn’t come off, with Mendes capitalising with a fine finish to fire past Ed McGinty.

Paddy Kirk’s long range effort after Niall Morahan’s pass was forced wide by Alex Ramsay in the Bala goals, before a vital Colm Horgan interception robbed Venables of an opportunity to double the hosts’ lead.

The league’s top scorer Keena fired wide, before Max Mata’s header was just pushed onto the crossbar by Ramsay.

Rovers were pushing for an equaliser, and they got on just on the half-hour mark.

Karl O’Sullivan found Keena who lobbed the goalkeeper with precision to bring Rovers back into it.

aidan-keena-scores-their-first-goal Aidan Keena of Sligo Rovers scores their first goal. Robbie Stephenson / INPHO Robbie Stephenson / INPHO / INPHO

Another vital McGinty save prevented a second Bala goal, with Keena’s shot from distance too far off target to trouble Ramsay.

The visitors looked to be the stronger of the two sides in the final moments of the first-half, and they started the second where they left off as Mata dragged his shot wide on 48 minutes.

The New Zealander didn’t have to wait long until he did hit the jackpot though, as the Lakesiders failed to clear a corner.

From that corner, the 21-year-old squeezed his shot into the corner of the post to put Rovers ahead in front of over 400 fans who made the trip.

Chris Venables’ 77th minute header that just drifted past the far post was as close as the Welsh side would come to getting back to level terms in the closing minutes.

But, their chances were given a boost on 79 minutes when Rovers were reduced to 10. Nando Pijnaker was caught in possession by James Davies, who robbed the New Zealand international.

max-mata Aidan Keena of Sligo Rovers scores their first goal Robbie Stephenson / INPHO Robbie Stephenson / INPHO / INPHO

The 24-year-old then pulled Davies down outside the box, and was handed a straight red.
Bala couldn’t make anything of the resulting free, although a follow-up corner causing a world of problems for Rovers who eventually cleared the danger.

Bala felt they should have had a penalty on 84 minutes when Mendes was taken down in the box, but the Gibraltar officials didn’t agree.

There was a break in play as referee Jason Lee Barcelo had to be replaced by the fourth official Patrick Canepa in the dying minutes.

Down to 10, Rovers were under pressure at times in the closing stages, but held out to take a 2-1 win into next Thursday’s second leg which takes place at The Showgrounds.

Bala Town: Alex Ramsay, Chris Venables, Lassana Mendes, Nathan Peate, Calum Woods (Oliver Southern, 66), Paul Rutherford (James Davies, 74), Antony Kay, Kieran Smith, Oliver Shannon (Bradley Bauress, 82), Ross White, David Edwards.

Sligo Rovers: Ed McGinty, Colm Horgan, Nando Pijnaker, Shane Blaney, Paddy Kirk, Will Fitzgerald, Adam McDonnell (David Cawley, 90+2), Niall Morahan, Karl O’Sullivan (Frank Liivak, 69), Aidan Keena, Max Mata (Lewis Banks, 82).

Referee: Jason Lee Barcelo (Gibraltar) (replaced by Patrick Canepa, 90) 

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