Europa Conference League Report: Shamrock Rovers 0 – 2 Molde
Rónán MacNamara reports from Tallaght Stadium
Shamrock Rovers’ 14-month unbeaten home record came to a shuddering halt as did their UEFA Europa Conference League campaign as goals from David Fofana and substitute Kristian Eriksen gave Molde a crucial three points at Tallaght Stadium.
The result leaves Rovers rooted to the bottom of Group F on just one point and without a goal from their opening four games.
The Premier Division leaders will feel a sense of injustice with Molde’s opener as replays showed Fofana to be clearly offside, but Eriksen’s strike midway through the second half ensured Rovers fell to a first home defeat since losing to Flora Tallin in August 2021 – 32 matches ago.
The Hoops dominated the game for large periods but couldn’t find the elusive goal that might have changed the outlook on this game when it was in the melting pot.
Stephen Bradley’s side were heavily criticised for showing no attacking ambition in last week’s corresponding fixture in Norway but their change in approach was evident immediately as an exuberant team took to the pitch buoyed by the atmosphere generated by the 5,806 strong crowd.
Rory Gaffney was left on the bench in favour of Aaron Greene and the striker missed a simply unforgiveable chance in the second minute.
Dylan Watts curled a ball around the back of the Molde defence where Richie Towell timed his run and slid the ball across for Greene who inexplicably put the ball wide from inside the six-yard box.
Rovers dominated the first half an hour but suffered a sucker punch when they were caught on the counter when Molde broke and Emil Breivik crossed for Fofana to nod past Alan Mannus although the striker looked to be a couple of yards offside.
The Tallaght faithful vented their opinions towards referee Dario Bel at half time which suggests what they thought of the decision.
Shamrock Rovers’ European campaign rested on successive home games against Molde and Gent but they almost had their hopes dashed just before the interval.
It was another counterattack from the runaway Norwegian champions elect with Breivik at the heart of it again. He slid through Fofana who went baring down on goal and as Tallaght Stadium gasped, Mannus came up trumps like he has done so often in the past and tipped the shot around the post.
The movement of Towell and Greene caused the Molde rearguard plenty of problems and Greene was unlucky to see his turn and swivel shot palmed away by the unconvincing Jacob Karlstrom before the opening goal of the game.
Rovers emerged from the half time dressing room with the same zest and fervour that saw them rattle their visitors and skipper Ronan Finn had an opportunity but skied over just seconds after the restart.
It was endless pressure from the Tallaght side and Karlstrom did extremely well to tip an instinctive Towell effort from inside the area wide and away from the onrushing Greene.
Daniel Cleary headed over from the resulting corner as he looked for his third goal in two games in all competitions.
When Molde did venture forward, they did with quality and Mannus was forced into a save from substitute Magnus Wolff Eikrem – one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s inspired signing’s during his disastrous stint as Cardiff City boss.
That sparked the away side into life and they soon hammered the final nail into the coffin of Rovers’ European campaign as sub Eriksen got away from Sean Kavanagh and glanced home at the near post.
The hosts did have the ball in the net through Greene but any hopes of an unlikely comeback were quickly quashed by linesman Marjan Tomas who this time was eagle-eyed with the marginal call.
Progression to the knockout stages is beyond Shamrock Rovers with their sole focus now retaining their Premier Division title for the third successive year as they look to become a regular fixture in European Group Stage football in the future.
That doesn’t mean all is lost for Bradley’s charges as they still have the famous coefficient to play for.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Daniel Cleary, Ronan Finn (c) (Neil Farrugia 68), Sean Hoare, Sean Kavanagh, Pico; Jack Byrne, Gary O'Neill, Richie Towell (Graham Burke 68), Dylan Watts (Justin Ferizaj 80); Aaron Greene.
Subs not used: Leon Pohls, Sean Gannon, Lee Grace, Victor Serdeniuk, Rory Gaffney.
Booked: Gary O’Neill
Molde FK: Jacob Karlstrom; Martin Bjornbak (Benjamin Hansen 46), Eirik Haugan, Kristoffer Haugen (Mathias Fjortoft Lovik 63), Martin Linnes (c) (Erling Knudtzon 80); Emil Breivik, Sivert Mannsverk, Magnus Retsius Grødem (Lars-Kristian Eriksen 63); Ola Brynhildsen, Datro Fofana (Magnus Wolff Eikrem 63), Birk Risa.
Subs not used: Oliver Petersen, Alexandre Craninx, Johan Bakke, Markus Kaasa, Niklas Odegard, Etzaz Hussain.
Booked: Datro Fofana (52) Emil Breivik (77).
Referee: Dario Bel (Croatia)
extratime.com Player of the Match: Emil Breivik (Molde)