Digital Desk Staff
Rory Gaffney and Aidomo Emakhu scored big second-half goals to keep Shamrock Rovers’ adventure in Europe on the boil as Stephen Bradley’s side delivered the caution and control required to see off FK Shkupi in the sapping heat of Skopje’s National Arena Todor Proeski.
As the Irish Examiner reports, the victory guarantees Rovers a group stage place in the Europa Conference League as a minimum and the €3.3 million basic prize money that goes with it.
Prior to that fallback, Hoops have something of a free hit in the play-off round of the Europa League against Ferencváros, with increased riches there should they make the group stages of that competition.
The Hungarian side were beaten 4-2 on aggregate by Qarabağ of Azerbaijan to drop out of the Champions League third qualifying round.
Rovers travel for the first leg in Budapest next week.
The North Macedonians chased the 3-1 first leg deficit from the off, Adem Ali slicing wide after just 22 seconds while they forced two corners inside the opening two minutes as Rovers had to dig in early on.
The League of Ireland champions responded positively with a terrific team move that almost brought them the lead on four minutes.
Skipper Ronan Finn, Dylan Watts, Richie Towell and Andy Lyons were all involved in the build-up before striker Gaffney’s angled shot was turned onto a post and out for a corner by Kristijan Naumovski.
Shkupi had their goalkeeper to thank again three minutes later following another sweeping move by Rovers.
Gaffney and Finn set up Towell who looked set to score only for Naumovski to make himself big and deflect the shot which looped over the crossbar and out for another corner.
The game settled down after its hectic start, Shkupi enjoying a fair deal of possession, though probing to no real effect as Rovers kept their shape well in frustrating them.
And it was Rovers who had the next attempt on goal on the counterattack on 27 minutes, Gaffney setting up Aaron Greene whose speculative left-foot shot from distance just didn’t curl close enough to goal.
A free kick brought brief anxiety to the Rovers area on 32 minutes. The delivery from Freddy Alvarez was flicked on for Senghor Faustin who toed the ball over the bar from just yards in front of goal.
Brazilian Queven, their goalscorer at Tallaght Stadium last week, tried his luck from distance with Alan Mannus more than equal to the bouncing drive.
But once again on the counter, Rovers stretched Shkupi as they should have punished sloppy defending at the other end on 37 minutes.
Finn stole possession on the right to set up Towell whose low shot was cleared off line by Faustin. The hardworking Gaffney was on hand to force Naumovski into another fine parry save.
Shkupi made three changes at half-time in the hope of injecting some much-needed urgency to their game, Faustin shooting not too far off target within the opening minute of the restart to signal their intent.
Minutes later Pepi Georgiev got in behind onto a fine through pass, controlled the ball well on his chest to plant his half volley straight into the arms of Mannus as Rovers were forced onto the back foot.
The home side carved Rovers open just before the hour, but half-time substitute Kristijan Trapanovski skied his effort over the top when he really should have got Shkupi back into the tie.
Rovers survived to strike to all but kill the game on 65 minutes.
Graham Burke, on three minutes as a substitute, found Gaffney with a clever pass. The Tuam native teed up his shot which took a clip off Abdula Dzelil to loop over Naumovski to the net.
As in the first leg Mannus was terrific with saves from a Gerogiev header and a long range shot from Alvarez before Rovers struck for their second goal on 85 minutes.
Burke again delivered a sublime assist to send fellow substitute Emakhu in over the top for the 18-year-old to clip the ball past a hesitant Naumovski and roll it to the net.
Mannus was finally beaten on the night in the 94th minute.
Sean Kavanagh was caught in possession to gift Sundat Adetunji a run on goal to fire home Shkupi's consolation.
The tie ended 5-2 on aggregate to Shamrock Rovers.
— Shamrock Rovers FC ☘️ (@ShamrockRovers) August 9, 2022