Alan Mannus keeps Shamrock Rovers’ hopes alive after bruising night in Bratislava

Goalkeeper’s penalty save and follow-up stop limits the damage ahead of second leg in Tallaght

Slovan Bratislava 2 Shamrock Rovers 0

Brazilian striker Rafael Ratão bagged two goals as Slovan Bratislava strolled to victory over Shamrock Rovers in this Uefa Champions League qualifier, first leg.

That is the basic information from a game running on fumes until it sprang to life in the very last seconds.

As one 39-year-old crashed out of Wimbledon another performed acrobatics to keep Rovers already slim chance of progress on life support. Twice Vladimir Weiss, fresh from his Euros campaign with Slovakia, had a clear sight of goal to make it 3-0, and twice the former Rangers player was denied by Alan Mannus.

That Weiss failed to beat the bearded Northern Ireland goalkeeper from the penalty spot or the follow up allows Rovers manager Stephen Bradley to put a positive spin on what was a comprehensive defeat.

Bradley might also be pleased that Ronan Finn avoided a straight red card for pulling Weiss to earth long after the three minutes of added time had elapsed.

Tallaght next Thursday, depending on how many supporters the Irish Government permits, could still become one of those special European occasions.

On this night Ibrahim Rabiu played puppeteer as the sun set on Bratislava's Tehelné pole stadium. The Nigerian international shaped the game's flow in 30 degrees heat as Rovers' pressing game visibly wilted before the first water break.

Despite a busy start from the League of Ireland champions – when Seán Gannon spurned a glorious opportunity to put them in front after seven minutes – the Slovakian champions looked the superior outfit. By some distance.

Mannus had a busy evening. Ezekiel Henty and Jurij Medvedev drew early stops from him as the contest gradually condensed around the Rovers box.

Sure enough, on 27 minutes, Vernon De Marco, afforded far too much space on the left flank, dropped a ball onto Ratão's head. The Brazilian ghosted behind Roberto Lopes before leaping over Lee Grace.

This two-legged affair was heading towards dead rubber status when Ratão scrambled a second goal two minutes after half-time. The statuesque defence appeared to presume the ball was running over the end line.

Maybe the frozen screen distorted what actually happened for the legions of Shamrock Rovers supporters that paid €10 for a malfunctioning streaming service.

Bradley reacted to flagging efforts to create anything resembling a goal chance with a triple substitution but Danny Mandroiu, Graham Burke and Dylan Watts were unable to turn the tie around.

Weiss really should have scored the third goal before Mannus’s penalty heroics but, again, the goalkeeper denied the manager’s son, and namesake, from completing a cheeky lob.

SLOVAN BRATISLAVA: Chovan; Medvedev, Kashia, Bozikov, De Marco; De Kamps, Kankava (Zmrhal, 74 ), Rabiu (Lichy); Cavric (Hrncar, 74), Ratão (Strelec, 90), Henty (Weiss, 62).

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus; Gannon (Mandroiu, 68), Hoare, Lopes, Grace, Scales; Finn, Greene (Watts, 68), O'Neil, Towell (Burke, 68); Gaffney.

Referee: Mario Zebec (Croatia).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent

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