Manager John Russell and the Sligo players after the win. Craig Watson/INPHO
Bit O'Red

'I'm unbelievably proud' - Sligo Rovers boss feels they deserved famous European win

John Russell gave his thoughts after last night’s victory away to Motherwell in the Europa Conference League qualifiers.

SLIGO ROVERS MANAGER John Russell says he is “unbelievably proud” after watching his team claim a famous victory in the Europa Conference League qualifiers last night. 

The Bit O’Red earned a 1-0 win away to Scottish Premiership side Motherwell at Fir Park, thanks to Aidan Keena’s brilliant lob in the 27th minute. 

Next Thursday see the sides meet again in the second leg, when Rovers will be hoping they can do enough to progress to the third qualifying round. 

“I’m unbelievably proud of the players and all the staff,” Russell said. “An incredible amount of work has gone in over the last few weeks.

I felt we had a big performance in us, and the challenge I put out to the players when we had a meeting before the game was, can we come here and get a win?

“I was reading a bit of press during the week in the lead up to the game and people were saying ‘they’ve a few injuries and they’re on a bad run’, and I had to scratch my head thinking we had lost one game at home in a number of weeks.

“I felt tonight our defensive structure was top class. The lads showed energy, work rate, discipline and we were really a threat on the counter, so I felt we fully deserved the win.

“We’re halfway there. We’ve got a great result away from home but we’ve got to regroup now, come back and make sure we capitalise on it.”

sligo-fans-celebrate-aidan-keena-scoring-their-first-goal The travelling Bit O'Red support. Craig Watson / INPHO Craig Watson / INPHO / INPHO

23-year-old Keena has been in clinical form this season, scoring 11 Premier Division goals and winning SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers Ireland Player of the Month award for March. 

Having found the back of the net against Bala Town in the previous round, the striker again showed his prowess in front of goal last night. 

“It was a serious finish again,” added Russell.”He’s just made for this stage, that’s two goals in Europe now. We had a huge travelling support and for them to witness that goal was magic.

“It’s great for him and his family. He was such a threat all night. Max (Mata) came off the bench and had a chance too, so some really good performances all over the pitch, but Aidan will get the plaudits as it was a fantastic finish.

aidan-keena-celebrates-scoring-their-first-goal-with-john-russell Goalscorer Aidan Keena runs to celebrate with the Sligo boss. Craig Watson / INPHO Craig Watson / INPHO / INPHO

The club have had to deal with the loss of Ed McGinty, who was announced as an Oxford United player yesterday, but 22-year-old Luke McNicholas put in a superb performance and Russell feels he has a ready-made replacement. 

“It was no surprise to me,” he said, when asked about McNicholas’ display. “I’ve know Luke for a number of years and we’re blessed at this club with the calibre of goalkeepers coming through.

Ed has been an unbelievable servant and it was a bit emotional when he said his goodbyes on Tuesday morning before we headed off to Scotland. What a great guy and we wish him all the best.

“This day was going to come, we knew that. For me, he has been the best ‘keeper in the league for the last 18 months. I’ve said in the past, you’re scratching your head wondering how he hasn’t got called into the international set-up but this move was coming and, for me, it’s just another stepping stone.

“He’s going to League One and I’d expect him to do really well there and go up the levels because he has all the ability.

“To have someone of Luke’s ability, he’s an Irish U21 international, waiting to step in to the number one shirt is fantastic for us and his performance tonight was incredible.”

- Reporting from Jessica Farry

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