For everyone involved with Shamrock Rovers, this year’s breakthrough in the group stages of the Europa Conference League is the first step in making it a regular thing.
defeat which confirms their elimination with two games to lose highlights how experience has revealed their shortcomings in this business.
Bad luck was a factor here, in the sense that they went behind after their best performance in 45 minutes on a goal that was clearly offside.
However, a chart that shows them failing to score in 360 minutes of action in this endeavor and conceding eight times tells its own story.
Rovers are the only team from the group stages of the third-tier competition who failed to hit the net, so they can hardly argue their position. Teams from comparable leagues do not have such difficulties.
Simply put, the League of Ireland champions don’t seem to possess the forwards to really hurt defenders in this business, although reluctance to use Rory Gaffney, their most powerful striker, due to league priorities n certainly doesn’t help.
But when they go in search of fresh blood during the winter, this is an area where they have to strengthen themselves by thinking about Europe. Relying on Aaron Greene, a 32-year-old journeyman who hasn’t even spent his entire career at centre-forward, will never yield rewards.
In saying this, however, it is the concession of basic goals, in this case a free-kick concession just as Stephen Bradley was about to make a key double-under, that racks up the frustration.
Rovers have made life uncomfortable for Molde here at times, but they have suffered punches in the stomach at crucial stages.
Molde escaped those choppy patches to see this game in comfort and inflict the Hoops’ first home loss since their costly playoff exit to Flora Tallinn last August.
They will be playing for pride and money in their final two games at home to Ghent and away to Djurgardens, although Stephen Bradley’s mentality will be shaped by their league position.
At least they gave themselves a chance to win this game.
Within two minutes it was clear this was going to be a different game to Rovers’ tame approach in Norway seven days before.
In truth, it was apparent 90 minutes before kick-off when the squad sheets confirmed that Jack Byrne and Dylan Watts would play in this match.
The only area they benched their best option was up top, with Aaron Greene favored to lead the line with likely player of the season Gaffney sidelined with Sunday’s trip to Drogheda in mind. Richie Towell was selected as support, a tactic they’ve used at home in Europe that can be effective.
It hinges on Towell timing his runs correctly and Greene anticipating it and it happened on Rovers’ first attack with a fastball from Dylan Watts creating a fantastic opportunity.
Towell did his part, breaking down the right and executing a perfect cross that Greene slotted wide with the goal at his mercy.
It set the tone for an opening 45 where Rovers enjoyed 65 per cent possession, although it was clear Molde was content to sit back and wait to strike on the break at times.
They eventually found the joy of that route, but not before more profligacy at Rovers, with Greene always looking able to find space without ever instilling confidence that he would make the most of it.
He missed another chance, while Ronan Finn’s strike was missed by the lucky Jacob Karlstrom, with the natives anticipating an upset.
With clever use of possession, right-centre half Daniel Cleary was able to press on and get involved.
Alas, Molde’s breakthrough came from a failed Hoops attack with Cleary catching up. Still, there was controversy at the conclusion with David Fofana clearly offside as he ran into Emil Breivik’s cross.
The speed of recovery from fit-again Roberto Lopes allows Rovers to take more risks, so it was frustrating to be punished with poor decision-making.
That said, the story of bad luck at the interval was weakened by a major release when Fofana ran clear on another break, with Alan Mannus opting not to run from his goal and stand on his feet for make a big stop.
Towell tested Karlstrom from the restart but Molde, who will remain in Dublin for another 48 hours on a training trip as he prepares to wrap up his domestic title, was much more aware of things after a chat with Erling Moe .
Kristoffer Haugen had wasted a chance to double his lead before formerly Manchester United sub Magnus Wolff Eikrem forced another big save from Mannus.
Bradley delayed the introduction of Graham Burke and Neil Farrugia until he was caught and Kristian Eriksen slid into space at the near post to convert a header from close range. The side reaction was telling. Game over.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus, Cleary, Lopes, Hoare; Finn (Farrugia 70), Watts (Ferizaj 81), O’Neill, Byrne, Kavanagh; Towel (Burke 70); Greene.
Mussel : Karlström, Bjornbak (Hansen 45), Haugan (Lovik 64), Risa; Linnes (Knudtzon 82), Breivik, Mannsverk, Grodem (Eriksen 64), Haugen; Fofana (Eikrem 64), Brynhildsen.
Arbitrator: Dario Bel (Croatia).