Sligo Rovers manager John Russell. NTB/Carina Johansen/INPHO
second leg

Sligo Rovers boss calls on players to go out on a high if historic European run ends

The Bit O’Red take on Viking FK at the Showgrounds tomorrow evening, having lost the first leg 5-1 in Norway.

JOHN RUSSELL WANTS his Sligo Rovers side to go into this week’s second-leg tie against Viking FK of Norway as though ‘it’s the first game’, as the Bit O’Red aim to put on a show for the home fans after losing the first leg 5-1 in Stavanger last week.

Russell lost two key players in Garry Buckley and Adam McDonnell to injury during that match, with those players added to an already lengthy list of injuries.

The ‘relentless’ routine of playing European football while keeping up a domestic schedule has meant that the Bit O’Red squad was somewhat depleted for last Sunday’s league fixture against Bohs.

Karl O’Sullivan had to play right-back with both Colm Horgan and Lewis Banks injured, while Seamas Keogh is likely to be out for the rest of the season.

The injury sustained by Buckley in Norway is a serious one, with a scan on Monday showing tears to his ACL and MCL, meaning the Cork native requires surgery and will miss the remainder of the season.

“Garry is one of our best players, and one of the best players in the League of Ireland,” Russell said. 

“To lose him in the European run in is a blow to us. Having said that, we have serious quality within the group.

“I thought Shane [Blaney] and Nando [Pijnaker] did really well against Bohs on Sunday.”

garry-buckley-goes-off-injured Garry Buckley leaving the field on a stretcher last week. NTB / Carina Johansen/INPHO NTB / Carina Johansen/INPHO / Carina Johansen/INPHO

The former midfielder is hopeful that both McDonnell and Lewis Banks will recover from knocks in time for Thursday’s game against the Norwegians.

“With all the games in Europe, the league and the cup, it’s been relentless. There’s a lot of tired bodies after the game in Norway.”

The truth is, no one is expecting the Bit O’Red to overcome that 5-1 deficit to beat Viking, and even Russell isn’t really discussing the possibility, at least publicly.

The main aim for the Rovers boss and his players is to ensure that they perform at their best in the home for what is a sell-out crowd yet again.

“We’ll have to go into the game like it’s the first game, we want to put on a good performance. It’s important we do that.

“I felt we fully deserve to be in the third round. It was a difficult night last week but coming into this game, for me it’s like a fresh start again.

“We have a lot of quality in our team and they’ll be eager to put on a performance and play well on Thursday.

It’s important now we put on a good performance at home to a full house and I think we will.”

Even with that 5-1 defeat, it’s been a history making run for Rovers, who had not reached the third round before, and had never progressed through two rounds in Europe prior to this season.

The European campaign has really lifted the spirits of the people of Sligo, and even further afield.

The club’s European run has been the hottest topic in Sligo for six weeks now.

“It’s captured the imagination of everyone in Sligo, full houses and us going away from home and winning games.

“We’ve won three matches in Europe this season which is probably unheard of for Irish clubs in Europe, a lot of the times it’s draws and extra-time and penalties.

“We had to get through penalties in the first round but we’ve won games in Europe and it’s put the league and Sligo on the map. For us, that’s the goal.

“We’ve got a lot of young hungry players who want to progress their careers and try and win things.”

markus-solbakken-with-lewis-banks Lewis Banks of Sligo Rovers and Viking’s Markus Solbakken. NTB / Carina Johansen/INPHO NTB / Carina Johansen/INPHO / Carina Johansen/INPHO

Russell is the kind of manager who ensures his homework is done for every game. Even with the hours he put into researching Viking, they were far too strong for Rovers.

But the Galway native is adamant that his players and even the club can learn from their opponents.

“You can watch all the videos and matches but nothing beats seeing teams live.

“For me on the sideline, watching them and their play, speed of movement. We haven’t experienced anything like that in our league before.

“There were serious learnings after the game for us as a team and as a club.

We want to aspire to get into Europe and get through rounds and try to break into group stages. You can learn an awful lot from the way they played.

“The whole structure of their club and how they’ve developed. On the night, for our players to see the different levels you have to go up.”

And now that they have tasted a European run and all that comes with it, Russell says it’s something the club needs to aim towards every year.

“It’s new territory for us as a club, for the group and for the staff.

“We’ve really enjoyed it, it’s been a really good challenge and it’s one we want going forward every year.”

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