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Shamrock Rovers boss Pat Fenlon was disappointed with his side's 2-0 defeat to RoPS Rovaniemi in Thursday night's Europa League first qualifying round match – and admitted ahead of the return leg in Finland, “We've got to go and have a go.”
Conceding two away goals has given the Hoops a mountain to climb on their visit to RoPS's Keskuskentta stadium next week. The Finnish side play on an artificial surface which makes Rovers' task more awkward, but Fenlon is under no illusions as to what is required.
“We've got to score one first and then see how that goes,” Fenlon told the assembled media post-match. “That's the key for us now, to try and get the first goal and then see how they react to that.
“I know they're strong at home, astro pitch as well, so we'll change the way we play a bit and as I said, see if we can nick that first goal.
“It's going to be a big ask but I don't think there was much in the game tonight. We gave away two poor goals, but the next goal like we say is the big one when we go away from home.
“We're disappointed. We don't feel it's over yet,” added Fenlon.
Goals from Jarkko Lahdenmaki and Janne Saksela gave RoPS just their fourth win in 15 European matches to put last season's Veikkausliiga runners-up in the driving seat in this tie. Fenlon was frustrated with both goals for contrasting reasons.
For the first, a Robert Taylor drive into a crowded box which deflected off of Lahdenmaki, he rued poor luck. For the second, created when substitute Aleksandr Kokko danced around Rovers' defence before teeing up Saksela, he lamented poor defending.
“The first goal was in fairness a little bit unlucky, there's not much we can do about that. The second goal we've got to defend better,” said the Hoops boss. “We're in a good position for the second goal, we've just got to stay on our feet.
“Rob [Cornwall]'s done well in the game, but he's just got to stay on his feet there and not dive in. He's got the striker going where he wants him, he's got him away from goal. He's just given him an opportunity by diving in and letting him come back inside.”
With the onus set to be firmly on his side to chase the game, Fenlon warned about the counter-attacking prowess of the Finns, evidenced in the breakaway which led to the second goal. However, the 47 year old hailed the impact of substitutes Dean Clarke and Gary McCabe.
The introduction of Clarke, in particular, made Rovers look immediately more dangerous in attack – he forced RoPS 'keeper Antonio Reguero into his first save of the night 60 seconds after coming on for Gavin Brennan with the score still at 1-0.
“We have to be careful that we don't get picked off,” said Fenlon. “We've obviously got to be mindful of the other end of the pitch. The two boys came on, Gary [McCabe] and Dean [Clarke] and gave us a bit of spark, a bit more on the front foot.
“We had lots of possession but we didn't really go too many places with it in the first-half and then the goal knocked us back a little bit. I thought we started well and then we conceded and it knocked us back, we lost our shape a bit. But we're disappointed, obviously. Very disappointed.”
Rovers had plenty of set-piece opportunities, particularly in the second half as RoPS committed some cute fouls wherever necessary to prevent the hosts from building any kind of momentum. Usually so potent in these situations, the Hoops were unable to take advantage.
“We're normally very strong because Killian [Brennan] and Brandon [Miele] have great deliveries,” said Fenlon. “They didn't deliver the ball well tonight. Very good yesterday in training, but sometimes that's nerves and that's what happens, you've got to concentrate.
“Believe in yourself when you're putting balls into the box. It's okay doing it in training but you've got to be able to do that when there's something at stake as well.”
The only plus to be taken from the night for Fenlon is the experience gained for some of the younger members in the squad. In total, six Rovers players made their European debuts in Tallaght. Rob Cornwall, Sean Heaney, David O'Connor and Gary Shaw all started while Clarke and Sean Boyd were sprung from the bench.
“I think it will benefit them long term,” said Fenlon. “Obviously short-term tonight it won't benefit them, but I think they'll learn. Three or four of them making debuts in Europe, it's good from their point of view. I thought they coped okay with it. We're disappointed because of the result but we've young boys in the team that didn't let us down, I think they coped really well.”