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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Mark McCadden

Shamrock Rovers 1-1 Gent: Stephen Bradley's side hang on to earn point in Tallaght

Shamrock Rovers earned their second Group F draw and another €166,000 in prize money - but it could so easily have been all three points and a €500,000 cheque from UEFA.

Their first goal in the group stages came after just three minutes from the head of Rory Gaffney.

And while Belgian giants Gent threatened on plenty of occasions, Rovers had chances of their own to put the game out of reach.

They coughed up their lead with 16 minutes remaining, moments after teenager Justin Ferizaj was dismissed for his second yellow card of the night.

Booked moments after his first-half introduction, the Ireland Under-19 ace saw red for a rash challenge on Matisse Samoise 10 yards inside the Rovers half.

Gent substitute Hyunseok Hong struck the equaliser less than 60 seconds after Ferizaj’s dismissal, which meant Rovers were on the backfoot for the remainder of the night.

The hosts got off to a dream start when Neil Farrugia advanced down the right and slipped the ball into Richie Towell.

Gaffney was loitering in space on the opposite side of the area for what seemed like an age as the attack built up on the right.

The Galway native was rewarded for his patience when Towell looked up and delivered an inch-perfect cross, which the striker nodded home from close range.

Gaffney almost doubled his tally on nine minutes when his 20-yard drive was pushed onto the post and wide by goalkeeper Paul Nardi.

But it wasn’t all Rovers - and that dream start turned into a midfield nightmare when they lost Dylan Watts to injury after 24 minutes and Chris McCann 10 minutes later.

Both had been instrumental in the Hoops taking early control of the game.

Lining out once again in the right-wing-back role, former Ireland Under-21 ace Farrugia not only played his part in the opener, but he terrorised the Gent defence with his pace.

He set off on one dash that took him from just inside his own half to the end-line, where his pull-back was mis-controlled by Ferizaj, robbing the youngster of a shooting chance.

Ireland Under-19 prospect Ferizaj, in defence of the teenager, was only two minutes on the pitch at that stage, having replaced Watts.

Ferizaj has seen plenty of action this season thanks in part to injuries to Jack Byrne, who was absent once again last night, along with Graham Burke and Ronan Finn.

It’s a shame his game was cut short late on - but his red card was yet another example of Rovers’ midfield woes last night, which were summed up when centre-half Sean Hoare was forced into the engine room by the departures of his two teammates.

No surprise, then, that Tallaght Stadium fell silent later in the first-half when Sean Kavanagh, the third of Rovers’ central midfield trio, went down injured.

Luckily, after some treatment, he was fit to continue. Otherwise manager Stephen Bradley, a former Hoops midfielder, might have been tempted to swap his tracksuit for a jersey and shorts.

Had he decided on a shock comeback, Bradley (37) wouldn’t have been the hosts’ oldest player.

Goalkeeper Alan Mannus is three years his senior - not that you’d know it after he showed age-defying reflexes and agility to keep Rovers’ lead intact.

There was a point-blank stop on 20 minutes to deny Ibrahim Salah, who stretched to get his toe on Laurent Depoitre’s back post header.

Sulayman Marreh’s swerving, dipping shot crashed off the 'keeper's chest just shy of the half-hour.

He dived high to his left to keep out Andrew Hjulsager’s rasping drive from the edge of the area as half-time approached.

Then in first-half injury-time it took an exceptional touch at full-stretch by substitute Lee Grace to take the ball off the toe of Matisse Samoise just yards from goal.

As much as Gent pressed after half-time, the hosts had opportunities to double their lead.

Twice Farrugia took a touch when the ball arrived at his feet, when a first-time shot might have been the better option.

And Gaffney had the ball in the net again on the hour, but Sean Hoare was offside as he cushioned Kavanagh’s cross to the path of the striker.

The Hoops had to play the final 17 minutes with 10 men when Ferizaj was sent off. Moments later, the teams were level.

Substitute Hong took the resulting free kick, then made a beeline for the penalty area, where he was in the right place to finish a fine pull-back by Bruno Godeau.

Gent’s failure to get a winner saw them booed off the pitch by the travelling support in last night’s 6,203 crowd, while the home faithful cheered their heroes off.


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