Shamrock Rovers’ aspirations of reaching the knock-out phase of the Europa Conference League ended at Tallaght Stadium as Stephen Bradley’s side were beaten 2-0 by Molde.
Despite dominating the opening exchanges, an offside goal in the 33rd minute by David Fofana put the visitors in control of the game following an entertaining opening half.
And while Rovers looked to get back in the game in the second half, they were ultimately undone by another headed effort in the 69th minute as Kristian Eriksen helped home a set-piece from close range.
The Irish side remain bottom of Group F, six points off second place with two games remaining in this stage of the competition.
Rovers head coach Bradley spoke about team selection ahead of the game and stated that he had more options for the home games, without consideration of the logistical issues involved in travelling away in Europe.
And the team that started was noticeably stronger compared with last week’s selection, with Jack Byrne included from the kick-off, while Richie Towell, Dylan Watts, and Roberto Lopes were also named in the XI.
Andy Lyons was a doubt ahead of the game and was not included in the matchday squad, allowing Sean Kavanagh to resume in a more natural position out on the left
It was a great start from the home side, the energy evident with the front three looking lively, and within two minutes, the Hoops’ patient build up led to the first chance on goal as Watts released Towell down the right, the attacking midfielder timing his run to perfection out wide.
Aaron Greene was equally alert and was ahead of the defence to latch onto Towell’s well-placed ball across the face, but his first-time effort flew past the near post.
Molde were slow to find their rhythm, however, they started to play some neat combinations as the game approached the ten-minute mark, as Fofana was played in on the edge of the box – the flag went up for offside but the decision looked marginal.
A show of solidarity and support for the victims of Creeslough after ten minutes, as the large crowd shared a moment’s applause around the stadium.
Byrne and Watts were dictating the tempo in an advanced midfield possession and a sublime cross-field ball from the latter picked out the Ronan Finn racing up the right flank. The Rovers skipper worked the ball back inside and let fly with his left foot; the flapping Jacob Karlstrom was relieved as his attempted save was worked over the crossbar.
Molde were clearly frustrated with several unforced errors showing a lack of composure in a game that they were struggling to have an impact on.
And Rovers’ approach of working quick balls into the final third was getting results, a tactic relying a little on the disjointed defending on display.
In the 25th minute, another chance arrived courtesy of a corner from the right, leading to a Lopes downward header which made the keeper work.
Five minutes later, a Greene snap-shot was saved, after more good link-up play on the right side, with Finn eventually playing the striker in on goal, but the keeper managed to bat the ball away and to safety.
In the 32nd minute, Birk Risa should have hit the target as he arrived unmarked at the back post from a set-piece out on the right wing. The midfielder opted for power but could not keep the ball below the bar.
Moments later, however, the Norwegians broke the deadlock as a quick counter caught the Hoops defence out of position and when the ball was lifted back in from the left by Magnus Grodem, the unmarked Fofana had the simplest of tasks of heading past Mannus from point-blank range.
Heartbreaking for Rovers as the goal was entirely against the run of play after the home side ran the game for the opening 30 minutes and, to rub salt in the wound, the striker was clearly offside as the ball was sent in from the left of the penalty box.
A reaction was needed, however, it was the visitors who almost doubled the lead as another counter attack saw the Rovers defence stretched.
Fofana timed a perfect forward run as the ball was slid in behind the retreating Dan Cleary, but with only Mannus to beat, this time he was denied by a fine save by the keeper, who was quickly down to his left to parry clear.
There would have been a bitter taste to the half-time oranges in the Rovers dressing room as they somehow found themselves behind going into the second half.
They restarted brightly though and the goal almost arrived in the 55th minute as Towell spun cleverly inside the box; his first-time effort was just about helped around the post.
But Molde were also looking to play on the front foot and Emil Breivik worked the keeper in the 55th minute with a low-hard strike that was just prevented from flying inside the post as Mannus got down smartly once more to save.
Kristoffer Haugen followed up with another effort on goal as the ball was worked back across the face, however, he could only find the side-netting.
With 30 minutes remaining, Molde noticeably slowed down and sat in, perhaps content to defend deep and look to see the game out; a triple substitution also signalled a change of tactics from coach Erling Moe.
And Rovers maintained a patient approach in their search for a maiden group stage goal this season; Towell trying his luck from distance, however, his well-hit strike was always rising and cleared the crossbar.
But again, Molde showed that they were dangerous in attack and managed to work the keeper once again in the 68th minute as substitute Magnus Wolff Eikrem’s fine shot was brilliantly turned around the post by Mannus.
Goal number two arrived from the subsequent set-piece as the ball was aimed at the near post with pace, where another substitute Kristian Eriksen dipped and flicked a fine header past Mannus, who could do little about the close-range effort.
Graham Burke and Neil Farrugia had been waiting to come on as Molde grabbed that second goal and within minutes of the duo arriving, Rovers did manage to find the back of the net, as Greene turned and smashed the ball home inside the box.
However, the lineman’s flag was raised quite quickly on this occasion to deny the home side a way back into the contest.
An enthusiastic ending to the game for the home side as Molde sat deep, however, the uphill task proved a step too far for Rovers, who will now turn all their attention to Sunday’s vital league game against Drogheda with the quest for three-in-a-row very much in their own hands.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary, Roberto Lopes; Sean Kavanagh, Ronan Finn (captain) (Neil Farrugia 70), Gary O’Neill, Dylan Watts (Justin Ferizaj 81); Jack Byrne, Richie Towell (Graham Burke 70), Aaron Greene
Molde: 1 Jacob Karlstrom; 21 Martin Linnes (captain) (14 Erling Knudtzon 81), 19 Eirik Haugan, 2 Martin Bjornbak, 28 Kristoffer Haugen (31 Mathias Fjortoft Lovik 64); 8 Sivert Mannsverk, 25 Emil Breivik, 22 Magnus Grodem (20 Kristian Eriksen 64); 3 Birk Risa, 11 Ola Brynhildsen, 9 David Fofana (Magnus Wolff Eikrem 64)
Referee: Dario Bel (CRO)
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