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Scrapping of away goals will 'definitely' influence Rovers' approach to Champions League clash

Stephen Bradley says he is not in favour of its abolishment.

Stephen Bradley pictured at a pre-match media event.
Stephen Bradley pictured at a pre-match media event.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

THE AWAY-GOALS rule has been scrapped for all Uefa competitions from the 2021-22 season onwards, and Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley believes this change will have a substantial impact on how teams approach games.

The Hoops are away to Slovan Bratislava this evening in the Champions League first qualifying round first leg.

Traditionally, scoring a goal has been perceived as crucial for away sides — a 2-1 or 3-2 loss was not always viewed in a wholly negative light, given the old cliche that away goals ‘count double’.

Now though, the number of goals that a visiting team registers no longer has any special significance.

“It definitely does change the way away teams will approach games,” says Bradley. “Obviously, in the past, the away goal was all-important to take home, but that’s gone.”

Asked whether he was in favour of the new ruling, the Hoops boss replied: “No, not really. I think it made away teams go and play more — more aggressive in how they played the game in terms of needing that away goal and how important it was, so I’m not really in favour of it. But there’s nothing we can do, it’s done, we just have to get ready for it.”

Bradley confirmed that all players and staff were given the all-clear following Covid tests ahead of the trip, while Chris McCann and Neil Farrugia are the only absentees through injury ahead of a game in which up to 500 fans have been permitted to attend.

Bradley added: “To be fair to the hotel, they’ve been great, giving us our own floor and certain rooms for the players’ rehab and activation stuff, so they’ve been really good. But it’s in and out, it’s ‘stay in the bubble’ and obviously with Covid, it’s important that we have clear tests and that we stay that way.”

As Slovakia’s most successful team, Slovan Bratislava are likely to provide a stern test for the reigning Premier Division champions and will be regarded as the favourites to progress.

The name of their manager, Vladimír Weiss, might ring a bell for Irish fans. He was Georgia boss between 2016 and 2020, overseeing four matches against the Boys in Green during that period.

His son, also named Vladimír Weiss, is currently on the books at Slovan and will similarly be familiar to many, with his list of former clubs including Rangers, Man City and Bolton.

Their starting XI is also likely to include many of the players that featured in a 4-1 aggregate Europa League victory over a 2019 Dundalk side that featured current Rovers stars Sean Gannon and Sean Hoare.

The Hoops are determined to avoid a similar outcome, and Bradley and his staff have been preparing extensively for this encounter, having watched “10 or 11″ games involving their upcoming opponents in recent days.

“A very good side, really dangerous going forward and it’s a difficult game, but we’re looking forward to it. It’s a good challenge.

“Their system is basic when you look at it, but it very rarely stays like that. They interchange, they rotate, they’re very aggressive with their positions, very clever footballers off the ball in terms of running and seeing spaces.

“It’s great first of all to have our first game in the Champions League for quite some time. It’s brilliant that the club is back here, but it’s important now that we build on this.

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“We know it’s a really high level of opposition, but it’s always going to be that in the Champions League unless you get extremely lucky. So it’s a difficult game, but this is where we want to be.

“It’s fresh, it’s exciting [compared with] the league. Every team sets up the way you expect them to. No surprises in terms of how they play, their threats and their weaknesses, whereas this is a fresh challenge in terms of really focusing on what these do, where their strengths are, where we can hurt them.”

Bradley agrees when it is put to him that Rovers’ progressive style of play leaves them better equipped for Europe than certain Irish sides of the past might have been.

“When we sat down a few years ago, that was part of the thinking of how we play. It can’t be such a big contrast from domestic to Europe. Because obviously, that’s where you want to play. You want to play at this level, but it can’t be a complete contrast to what we do every week. The players know and as a group, we believe in what we do. I think we’ve seen that in Europe over the last few years and that will be the case [this evening]. We’ll go and play our game, and hopefully, that’s enough.

“When you’re playing against this level of opposition like Milan last year and like Limassol, every second counts. If you switch off, nine out of 10 times you get punished and that’s [not always] the case domestically, sometimes you get away with it.”

It’s now 10 years since Shamrock Rovers became the first Irish side to reach the Europa League group stages and while that achievement will count for little today, Bradley hopes his group of players can achieve something similarly impressive ultimately.

“That was special, what they did then. That has to be the ultimate aim for any Irish team in Europe. But there’s a lot that goes into that in terms of the draw and vital moments in games. We’ve to focus on one game, that’s [today], and look after that.”

This evening’s game kicks off at 5.30pm and you can view it on Shamrock Rovers’ official website. More details here.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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