The manner of Gary McCabe’s equaliser in last week’s draw with Partizan in Tallaght showed that Shamrock Rovers are capable of moments of magic worthy of the European stage and if Michael O’Neill formula of containment for his side’s European travels continues to work The Hoops could be on for a huge upset.
Last year’s trips saw a 1-0 win in Israel and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Juventus in Italy while so far this year they’ve secured a draw in Estonia and though they lost in Copenhagen their tactics made life frustrating for the players and fans alike.
Enda Stevens noted the effects of that display ahead of the match in Belgrade, “over in Copenhagen we did so well their fans booed them off at the end.”
The atmosphere in Belgrade is likely to be far more hostile to Rovers but O’Neill also drew on previous success in Europe ahead of the game, referencing last years’s win in Tel Aviv.
“We faced a similar situation in Israel last year and won 1-0, so there are a lot of positives that the players can bring to Belgrade”, he said adding that they learnt from last week’s thrilling draw, “we know where we can hurt them.”
Despite the strong second half performance of O’Neill’s men Partizan will remain strong favourites for the tie but the Northern Ireland man has refused to concede the outcome as inevitable.
“They tired just before the half-time whistle and apart from the first 10 to 15 minutes of the second half, they kept dropping back and dropping back” he said, “So we’ll be going there with a lot of confidence. We know what they’re about, we just have to pick our passes, we can’t give away cheap possession.”
If Rovers can manage to clear the final hurdle to the Europa League, O’Neill will be able to add a lot more experience to his already impressive European CV.
Stephen O’Donnell and Karl Sheppard are both available for selection following injury and may feature from the bench as O’Neill has acknowledged that matches against opposition of Partizan’s quality are a “14 man game” for Rovers.