Penalty shootout drama as Sligo Rovers go through in Europa Conference League

Ed McGinty was the hero for Sligo Rovers.

Sligo Rovers players celebrate.
Sligo Rovers players celebrate.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Sligo Rovers 0

Bala Town 1

(Aggregate: 2-2 – Sligo Rovers win 4-3 on penalties)

SLIGO ROVERS NEEDED penalties to earn their spot in the Europa Conference League second qualifying round after they couldn’t beat Bala Town in ordinary time, or extra-time.

Bala were leading 1-0, and Rovers couldn’t find a way to come back, with the sides level on aggregate following the first leg.

Ed McGinty was the hero, saving two penalties and keeping Rovers in the game with several important saves throughout the evening.

The Bit O’Red carried a 2-1 victory into the second leg having come from behind in Park Hall in the first leg last Thursday.

Lassana Mendes put the Cymru Premier side ahead after five minutes, but the lethal strikeforce of Aidan Keena and Max Mata ensured Rovers’ brought the lead home.

Rovers have only ever progressed through a round in Europe once, as have Bala, who went through the first round in 2020 when ties were one-legged affairs due to Covid-19.

The win in Oswestry last week was only Rovers’ fourth victory in Europe, but it extended John Russell’s unbeaten run since taking over as Rovers manager.

Tonight’s hosts were heavy favourites, given the fact that their opponents are part-time and returned to pre-season early to prepare for Europe.

Russell made two changes to his side following last week’s win. Nando Pijnaker serves a suspension having been dismissed in the first leg, with Garry Buckley returning in his place.

Estonian international Frank Liivak was handed a first start, with Will Fitzgerald missing out.

Bala Town manager Colin Caton also made two changes. Bradley Bauress and Oliver Shannon came into the starting 11 with Calum Woods and Oliver Southern dropping to the bench.

It was a tense opening 20 minutes, with neither goalkeeper tested. Rovers tried to beat Alex Ramsay when Adam McDonnell’s corner was nodded just wide by Niall Morahan, before Karl O’Sullivan’s corner was directed wide by Shane Blaney.

Bala’s direct approach isn’t the easiest on the eye, but it is effective and Rovers were having some difficulty defending against it in those opening minutes.

On 35 minutes, the visitors went ahead. Rovers failed to clear a cross properly with Bradley Bauress’ cross falling nicely for the outstretched David Edwards, with the former Welsh international needed no invitation, poking it past Ed McGinty to give his side the lead on the night, and making it 2-2 on aggregate.

Blaney’s free-kick skimmed the crossbar before half-time, with the Bit O’Red almost stunned by their Welsh counterparts.

A superb save from McGinty denied Mendes on 50 minutes after a brilliant cross from Chrois Venables, but Davies should have extended his side’s lead on the hour mark. Through one-on-one, he just needed to take the ball past McGinty, but the Rovers netminder did enough to take the ball away without committing the foul.

Shane Blaney directed a header off the line on 90+6 minutes, as this game headed for extra-time, with John Russell’s side struggling to get a shot on target.

McGinty saved again on 98 minutes, before Will Fitzgerald came close for Rovers from a Karl O’Sullivan corner.

The momentum was with Rovers, but they were not troubling Ramsay enough in goals.
Bala will be wondering how they didn’t score deep into extra-time when Davies’ effort was saved by McGinty, Venables’ header hit the crossbar and Wall then couldn’t get it in after all that.

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And so, penalties loomed. Venables netted first for Bala, with Cawley equalising. Edwards made it 2-1, with Kirk levelling. Spittle then missed his penalty, with Keena putting Rovers ahead.

Kay made it 3-3, with Blaney scoring his to make it 4-3. Wall then missed his penalty, to send Rovers through.

They did it the hardest way possible, but Rovers are through to face Motherwell.

Sligo Rovers: Ed McGinty, Colm Horgan (Lewis Banks, 64), Garry Buckley, Shane Blaney, Paddy Kirk, Frank Liivak (Will Fitzgerald, 46), Adam McDonnell (Kailin Barlow, 99), Niall Morahan (David Cawley, 70), Karl O’Sullivan, Max Mata (Cillian Heaney, 70), Aidan Keena.

Bala Town: Alex Ramsay, Nathan Peate, Ross White, Oliver Southern (Johnny Spittle, 105), Bradley Bauress (Luke Wall, 89), Antony Kay, Lassana Mendes, Kieran Smith, David Edwards, Chris Venables, Paul Rutherford (James Davies, 52 [Naim Arsan, 114).

Referee: Jochem Kamphuis.

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Jessica Farry

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