Shamrock Rovers made Irish footballing history when they become the league of Ireland side to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League thanks to 3-2 aggregrate win over FK Partizan.
Despite the side’s heading into the tonight’s fixture level after last week’s encounter in Dublin, the hosts were very much the favourite’s given their European pedigree, not to mention the stifling heat.
The favourites tag looked justifiable in the opening exchanges as Michael O’Neill’s men made a nervous start and they were unlucky not to be a goal down inside the opening five minutes when Vladimir Jovancic missed when through on goal.
Vladimir Volkov then had a header saved by Ryan Thompson as the pressure began to build and it was Volkov who broke the deadline and Irish hearts when he put Partizan ahead on 35 minutes, the left back getting on the end of Nemanja Tomic’s corner.
O’Neill bought on Karl Sheppard for Billy Dennehy at half time and the move seemed to lift Rovers who came out fighting in the second half, Enda Stevens given the home fan’s a scare with an effort that just went wide.
FK failed to heed the warning sides and just like last week, it was a moment of individual brilliance which dragged Rovers back into the tie, Pat O’Sullivan’s wonderful volley from a corner finding the back of the net.
With 32 minutes remaining, there was still time for another heart breaking European defeat however Rovers held onto take the game into extra time.
The goal post came to their rescue in the opening minutes of extra time when substitute Stefan Babovic curled a free kick on to the post with Thompson beaten.
Then came one of the most defining moments in Irish domestic football when Sheppard was fouled in the box by the goal keeper Illic and up stepped Stephen O’Donnell to slot the penalty home and put Rovers in command.
The jobs got easier a few minutes later when Partizan were reduced to 10 men and in the end the Hoops held on to make history.
The vultures will no doubt be circling both the players and manager after their eye catching European run but for now the players, management and loyal fans can savour tonight‘s win safe in the knowledge that the long term future of the club also looks a lot rosier with the club expected to benefit to the tune of 1 million euro. A great result not to mention a great night for Rovers and Ireland.