A last gasp equaliser from Robert Bayly sent Shamrock Rovers fans into rapture at Tallaght on Thursday night as Bnei Yehuda finally succumbed to a Rovers side that simply wouldn’t give up.
Overcoming Bnei Yehuda in their Europa League qualification second round tie was always going to be a tough task for Shamrock Rovers but it was one that got immeasurably tougher when the Israeli side scored on the break after 26 minutes.
It was a setback that Rovers scarcely deserved as what attacking play had taken place up to that point had all been played by them. Both James Chambers and Paddy Kavanagh had been lively on the flanks and Chris Turner and Stephen Rice in central midfield had presented a formidable barrier to Yehuda while still finding time and space to contribute to some sweeping attacking moves.
Thomas Stewart was the first man to threaten when he picked up a sublime ball from Chambers in the eighth minute, but his curling cross, aimed at the arriving Twigg, was too close to Aiyenugba in the Israeli goal.
Aiyenugba almost presented Stewart with a tap in two minutes later when he mis-controlled a back pass but the Nigerian recovered himself in the nick of time. Nice build up play from Twigg, Chambers and Stewart set up Kavanagh on 19 minutes but the wingers shot was off target and Rovers forged another chance three minutes later when Craig Sives cross found Stewart at the near post. But his shot also flew wide of the Yehuda goal.
Then came the Yehuda breakthrough. A pass from Assi Baldout split the Rovers defence and put Eghia Yavruyan through on goal. Alan Manus seemed to hesitate and by the time he met the Israeli striker at the edge of his box, he could do little but deflect the shot into the path of substitute, Omri Afek who had a simple task to tap the ball into the net.
Having taken the lead, Yehuda began to pass the ball with more freedom and Rovers had to work considerably harder as the half wore on. Craig Sives did manage to get a header on target from a Chambers corner and then, just seconds before half time, Twigg blasted a close range shot against Aiyenugba having been put through by Turner.
Rovers continued to battle for everything in the second half against a hard and well organised Yehuda side. In the 49th minute Gary Twigg had the hearts of the Tallaght faithful firmly in their mouths when his overhead kick was deflected narrowly wide and a strong run from Paddy Kavanagh saw him hauled to the ground just outside the Yehuda box, though Chambers subsequent free came to nothing.
With half an hour to play the Israeli side replaced striker, Yavruyan with Oz Raly and pulled back into a 4-5-1 formation that signified the strength of the Rovers threat. Michael O’Neill brought on Billy Dennehy for Price in an effort to freshen up the home sides attack and within moments the Cork winger was in the thick of things.
Chasing a ball into the box he ran a ball against an Israeli arm and although all of West Dublin screamed for a penalty it was never more than a desperate call. Then, moments later, a Dennehy cross found the head of Twigg but the Scot’s effort sailed wide.
In the final fifteen minutes, as Rovers legs tired, the half chances became less clear cut and their hopes of salvaging a draw slipped slowly into the realm of the unlikely. Robert Bayly came on for Turner and fought the good fight, but there seemed little chance of the goal that they needed until, in the 91st minute a cross from Rover’s left wing found Bayly beyond the back post. His first effort bounced back to him off Twigg but his second, driven across goal from practically on the end-line, somehow tucked itself in at the back post.
Tallaght erupted. It was a fitting end to a magnificent performance and, fitting too, in an historical context, that Rovers first ever European tie at their new home was rescued from the flames. There remains an immense task in Tel Aviv next week, but for now this feels like some kind of victory.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Manus; Craig Sives, Dan Murray, Aidan Price (Billy Dennehy, 64), Enda Stevens; James Chambers, Stephen Rice, Chris Turner (Robert Bayly, 71), Paddy Kavanagh; Gary Twigg, Thomas Stewart.
Subs not used: Robert Duggan, Danny Murphy, Pat Flynn, Stephen Bradley, Graham Barrett.
Bookings: Dennehy (93).
Bnei Yehuda: Dele Aiyenugba; Yitzhak Azuz, Ivan Garrido, Aviv Haddad, Kfir Edri; Liroy Zhairi, Linic Sinisa, Assi Baldout, Shalev Menashe (Hasan Abu Zaid, 73); Yeghia Yavruyan (Oz Raly, 58), Moshe Biton (Omri Afek, 19).
Subs not used: Ran Kadoch, Tal Mishan, Dean Mori, Shlomi Levi.
Bookings: Azuz (51).
Referee: Mauro Bergonzi (Italy)
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Stephen Rice (Shamrock Rovers).
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at email@example.com
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