It was always going to be a difficult task for John Russell’s Sligo Rovers, but it looks as though their European adventures are all but over for another year as they suffered a heavy defeat in the first leg of their Europa Conference League third qualifying round tie against Viking FK.
Rovers were under pressure from the off, and were 2-0 down at half-time.
Things didn’t improve in the second-half, with the relentless home side not giving up, making sure that they had almost put this tie to bed before traveling to Sligo next week.
The Bit O’Red’s European journey is the stuff dreams are made of, and manager John Russell spoke mid-week about his desire to keep this run going.
His side defied the odds to overcome Motherwell across two legs in the second round, but knew tonight’s opponents would pose a tougher challenge.
The Sligo boss kept his faith in the same team that started across both legs against Motherwell.
The Norwegian side weren’t taking this challenge lightly, and were wary of the threat that Rovers’ Aidan Keena brings to the table.
Manager Bjarte Lunde Aarsheim brought Harald Tangen into his starting XI, the only change from the side that shocked Sparta Prague last week to reach this stage.
Neither of these two sides were expected, on paper, to overcome their opponents.
But, Viking were favorites to progress from the third round prior to the meeting at Viking Stadion in Stavanger.
The key for the Bit O’Red was to keep the tie alive heading into the second-leg next week at The Showgrounds.
And those hopes took a fairly big dent early on when Rovers were 2-0 down after just eight minutes, and were forced into two changes with just 22 minutes on the clock.
Zlatko Tripic was causing problems for the visitors immediately, and he put his side ahead before Rovers even had a chance to settle, as he got on the end of Kevin Aleksander Kabran’s dangerous ball.
Viking had Rovers under the cosh even at this early stage, and Russell’s case wasn’t helped as Adam McDonnell was forced off through injury after just seven minutes.
It was one way traffic at this point, and Viking made their chances count as Fridjonsson fired past Luke McNicholas to double his side’s advantage on eight minutes.
Rovers had barely had a chance to get out of their own half until Keena burst forward on 18 minutes.
As he cleverly used his pace and determination to beat the opposition defenders, the ball almost got stuck under his feet and the opportunity went astray.
There was even more bad news to come for the Rovers boss, as a serious injury to defender Garry Buckley meant a second change for the Bit O’Red, with Nando Pijnaker coming on.
Despite all the blows they suffered, Sligo grew into the game as it wore on, and Gunnarsson in the Viking goals had to be brave on 35 minutes to get in the way as Pijnaker and Mata linked up well in front of goal.
Keena’s powerful effort from distance sailed wide on 39, as Rovers limited their opponents to efforts from distance.
Still, though, it was going to take a mammoth effort from Rovers to come back into this game.
And, another set-back arrived on 53 minutes when substitute Mai Traore finished off a dangerous Viking attack, nestling his shot in the corner to ensure a comfortable lead for his side.
Whatever chance Rovers had at 3-0, their task was made all the more difficult on the hour mark as Niklas Sandberg curled his long range shot around McNicholas for 4-0, compounding the misery for Sligo.
Substitute Edwin Austbo made it 5-0 in the dying minutes, before David Cawley’s penalty in front of his own traveling support cut the deficit to four, although it will have little bearing on the tie.
Rovers will be focused on putting a show for their fans in the second-leg next Thursday at a sold out Showgrounds, but it will take a miracle to change the outcome.
Viking FC: Patrik Gunnarsson, Sondre Flem Bjorshol (Edwin Austbo, 77), David Brekalo, Viljar Vevatne, Kevin Aleksander Kabran (Niklas Sandberg, 46), Samuel Fridjonsson, Markus Solbakken, Harald Tangen (Kristoffer Lokberg, 61), Shayne Pattynama, Zlatko Tripic ( Simen Kvia-Egeskog, 77), Daniel Karlsbakk (Mai Traore, 46).
Sligo Rovers: Luke McNicholas, Lewis Banks, Shane Blaney, Garry Buckley (Nando Pijnaker, 22), Paddy Kirk, Karl O’Sullivan (Frank Liivak, 75), David Cawley, Adam McDonnell (Max Mata, 7), Niall Morahan, Will Fitzgerald, Aidan Keena (Greg Bolger, 75).
Referee: Radu Marian Petrescu (Romania)
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