UEFA Champions League 2nd Qualifying Rnd First Leg
Shamrock Rovers 0-0 FK Ekranas
SHAMROCK ROVERS missed a host of late chances as they failed to finish off FK Ekranas in their UEFA Champions League second qualifying round first leg at Tallaght Stadium.
While they will be in the draw for the third qualifying round to be made at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland this Friday lunchtime, Rovers face an uphill task to ensure they will be still in the competition come next Tuesday evening as they face a side that hasn't lost the home leg of their last five European ties.
It might have been so different as all Rovers' best work in the final third came in the last ten minutes as they wasted four clear-cut scoring openings as they finally had Ekranas on the rack.
Gary Twigg, whom manager Stephen Kenny backed to break his goal drought in Europe on the eve of the game, came so close to doing precisely that on 80 minutes, controlling Billy Dennehy's cross to take it round Emilijus Zubas only for the ball to get stuck in his feet and allow the keeper to recover.
Within a minute Twigg put Ronan Finn in on goal for the midfielder to blast a shot from an angle off the crossbar.
The chances kept coming for Rovers as Chris Turner got on the end of Dennehy's cross to shoot waywardly over the top.
Then, in the final minute, Stephen O'Donnell, whose penalty in Belgrade last year brought that historic breakthrough to the groups stages in Europe, looked sure to score after Finn and Turner worked him through. But his shot, which appeared to get a touch off Zubas, was wide.
Kenny threw up one surprise in his starting line-up as Daryl Kavanagh made his first start since the summer break.
Despite the recent transfer of Lithuanian internationals Andrius Velicka, Mantas Savenas and Ramunas Radavicius, Ekranas could nonetheless call on the experience of six full internationals while new signings Zilvinas Kymantas led their attack.
In the build up to the game, Ekranas manager Valda Urbonas had touched on the stereotypical physical style of teams from these islands. Yet it was his tall, imposing side that showed an over-zealousness in the tackle in the early exchanges with Serb Marko Andelkovic booked for a nasty foul on Killian Brennan.
Rovers started well without actually threatening and it was Ekranas who registered the first effort on goal on 26 minutes; Yani Urdinov laying the ball off for Aurimas Kucys to drill a 30-yard drive into the arms of Oscar Jansson.
While that came from the first spell of pressure from Ekranas, Rovers promptly responded with their first confidence-boosting opening of the game on 31 minutes.
Conor Powell found Gary McCabe in space on the left and his square ball brought a first time effort from Brennan that curved away from Zubas' left-hand post.
Rovers then might have been ahead three minutes later from the most incisive move of the first half.
The impressive Kavanagh threaded a delightful through ball for the run of Finn. Stretching, the midfielder struggled to make decent contact as he poked wide.
Confident on the ball, Ekranas continued to get forward ably and Ken Oman did well to take the ball off the toe of Andelkovic before Kucys once more tested Jansson from distance.
There was more urgency about Rovers on the resumption with Brennan finally getting their first shot on target four minutes in, though the effort scarcely worked Zubas.
Finn's tenacity then saw him dispossess Kucys and surge forward only to scuff his shot straight at Zubas.
Ekranas looked rattled for a while, relief coming in the form of a superb run past Finn and Stephen Rice by Andelkovic before he brought the save of the night from Jansson with a left-foot drive from outside the area.
Rovers pressed late all for the all important goal, but it wasn't to come.
Substitute Turner's shot on target lacked enough power to trouble Zubas while Finn had a shot blocked away by Kucys as Ekranas worked desperately to clear a long throw from Pat Sullivan before the late flurry of action failed to give Rovers a lead they deserved to take to Lithuanian next week.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Jansson; Sullivan, Sives, Oman, Powell; Rice, Brennan (O'Donnell 83); Kavanagh (Dennehy 69), Finn, McCabe (Turner 73); Twigg.
FK EKRANAS: Zubas; Luksa, Dedura, Samusiovas, Urdinov; Tomkevicius, Kucys; Andelkovic (Morvilas, 90+2 mins); Varnas, Kymantas, Vertelis.
REFEREE: M Gestranius (Finland).
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