Shamrock Rovers face a mammoth task if they are to progress to the second qualifying round of the Europa League after they fell to a 1-0 first leg defeat to Sweden’s AIK in Tallaght on Thursday.
Daniel Sundgren scored the game’s only goal 16 minutes from time to ensure the visitors take a slender lead to Stockholm, where Rovers will have to score at least once.
It all started so brightly for Stephen Bradley’s side, who dominated the ball in the early stages against a side content to sit deep with five defenders across the backline.
Still there was room to exploit, as Ethan Boyle demonstrated with an incisive run and cross early on to produce a chance for Dan Carr, and an offside flag saved his blushes after a poor miss.
Midfielder Dylan Watts, making his competitive debut after signing from Bohemians the previous week, stung keeper Oscar Linner’s palms with a volley soon after from a half-cleared free kick.
The Swedes grew more adventurous as the half wore on and Ahmed Yasin cut in and shot, forcing a smart save from Gavin Bazunu before captain Henok Goitom sliced a shot over.
Watts had another great chance to nab a debut goal seven minutes into the second half but, after brilliant work from captain Ronan Finn to cut the ball back, he blazed over from close range.
Moments later, a well-struck effort from distance by Watts was fumbled by Linner, and the Swedish keeper was fortunate to see the ball spin away from goal.
Mistakes began to creep in as Rovers tired, however, and they fell behind when Sam Bone failed to track Sundgren’s run from the right.
The wing-back latched onto Tarik Elyounoussi’s through-ball and slotted the ball into the corner of Bazunu’s net – the first goal the 16-year-old has conceded in five games of senior football.
Bradley introduced Aaron Greene for his debut late on, and his pace and power caused problems, with a powerful strike in injury time causing problems again for Linner.
“I thought we played well enough to get something out of the game,” Bradley said in his post-match press conference.
“I’m disappointed with the goal because the boy who scores it, that’s his game. He runs off the ball and he’s good at it.
“We worked on stopping it, but we switched off for a minute and got punished. If you do that at this level, nine times out of ten you get punished. And we got punished.”
Bradley feels there’s still an opportunity to get something from the tie on Thursday evening, however he’s aware the Swedish side will be better again on home soil.
“We knew before they came they’re a good side. I’m sure next week in Sweden they’ll be better again, so it’ll be a step up again, but I believe we can cause them problems.”