Macdara Ferris reports from Bergen in Norway
Tourists on a trip to Bergen typically visit the fish market, fjords and the fine ensemble of picturesque stone and timber houses on the seafront dating from the Hanseatic League.
The visiting League of Ireland fans from Shamrock Rovers this week were more concerned with the performance of their ensemble of players in the Europe League against SK Brann.
Both tourists and travelling away supporters to Bergen this week went home happy as the weather shone on the UNESCO heritage city and Hoops supporters saw their team come from behind twice to claim two very valuable away goals to take back to Tallaght for the second leg. On the eve of the game the bulk of the 150 or so travelling Shamrock Rovers supporters made their base the Brian Boru pub in the centre of Bergen.
The Dundalk v FC Riga game provided the backdrop to the evening and, judging by the groans, cheers and jeers during the game, most Rovers fans seemed to be supporting the Latvian team – no green agenda from the green and white Hoops supporters! Match day was not the norm for Bergen as there wasn’t a sign of rain in a city that gets rainfall on 260 days a year and a temperature at 20 degrees – five higher than the average for July.
The weather made the views even more spectacular from Mount Floyen for those fans who walked up took the funicular railway ride up above the city centre. The blue skies met the blue waters out in the bay and you could easily see the four massive cruise ships moored below that were depositing those thousands of tourists in the town below.
Looking in the other direction away from the port, SK Brann’s 18,000 all-seated stadium could be seen in the suburbs. The stadium is just completing construction of 150 or so apartments as part of a student accommodation on one side of the ground which look out across the pitch.
However, on match day, electronic blinds close to “prevent visible access into the student accommodation” although I suspect it is more likely to prevent students from watching the match for free! The windows also don’t open on match night in case any pyro might set off the fire alarms.
With an early enough kick off for Norway of 7pm, there were still home fans coming into the ground 15 minutes into the game – with the attendance topping out only just above 4,000 on the night. Those latecomers missed their team go 1-0 up after a dozen minutes.
Ethan Boyle got a good header to the ball to clear a corner, and fell to Taijo Teniste 30 yards from goal and more. It needed to be a superb shot to beat Alan Mannus from there and so it was to put Stephen Bradley’s men on the back foot early in the game.
The Hoops head coach had gone with three or five at the back depending on your level of optimism – call it maybe a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty defensive formation. He had also brought back Aaron Greene into the team having dropped the striker from his starting line-up for the first time this season three games ago.
Jack Byrne’s set piece delivery was crucial for Rovers on the night and his free kick on 34 minutes helped produce the equaliser as, under pressure from Pico Lopes, Amer Ordagic put the ball through his own net. Lopes was to be central to the story on the night.
The Hoops supporters hadn’t really stopped celebrating when they saw Lopes leave a foot out for Veton Berisha to clip and earn his side a penalty that Berisha himself drilled home to give SK Brann a half-time lead.
Rovers created a number of chances in the second half but Greene couldn’t find the back of the net with Hakon Opdal pulling off an excellent save just after the hour mark. At the other end Mannus was called upon on a trio of occasions to keep the deficit at one goal.
The discussion as the game went into injury time was that a 2-1 defeat wasn’t the worst of results to take back to Tallaght but then the game took one final turn. Once again Byrne was the provider. He delivered the ball for Lopes to leap above his marker. He headed the ball by Opdal for the equaliser deep in injury time, much to the delight of the travelling supporters in that corner of the ground.
With the tram not working after the game, it was a bit of trek back into town for the travelling supporters who enjoyed their food (reindeer sausage) and drink (Frydenaal) on a night of celebration, even if they hadn’t seen a victory. There were no such celebrations for the Rovers team though. For them, it was a case of job well done in the 90 minutes but that it is a job only half complete. Roll on the second leg in Tallaght next Thursday evening.