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Some Questionable Defending Sees Shamrock Rovers Suffer Defeat To Flora Tallinn

Some Questionable Defending Sees Shamrock Rovers Suffer Defeat To Flora Tallinn
By Andrew Dempsey

Shamrock Rovers have it all to do if they are to reach the Europa Conference League Group Stages after a damaging 4-2 first-leg defeat to Flora Tallinn on Thursday evening.

A Martin Miller brace along with goals from Rauno Sappinen and Sergei Zenjov caused the damage on a night where the Hoops were undone not only by Flora, but by their sloppy defensive display.

Goals from Graham Burke and Liam Scales left them with a glimmer of hope, but they will need to improve substantially if they are to go through and extend their European odyssey for another few months at least.

After seeing off Drogheda United away from home in league action on Sunday, Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley made two changes, with Gary O'Neill returning to the starting XI.

Bradley spoke in the lead up to this game that Flora Tallinn would prove to be toughest test on their European run so far.

And so it proved early on as the Estonians took a 13th minute lead through Sergei Zenjov.

Zenjov finished off a fine Flora move, pouncing on an exquisite through ball from Konstantin Vassijev. That was following a rare misplaced pass from Joey O'Brien.

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This was not the first time Rovers played their Estonian opponents in Europe, however.

They played the Estonian champions in 2011 on their way to the Europa League Group Stages, winning 2-1 on aggregate.

That Hoops side included current players Ronan Finn and Alan Mannus, with the latter leaving Rovers shortly after that Champions League qualifier.

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But Flora are a far superior outfit than what they were back then, and it told just before the half-hour mark as they took a 2-0 lead.

Rauno Sappinen broke down the right flank from a Rovers attack, catching a disjointed defence at sixes and sevens after a long-range Graham Burke shot.

He then played the ball across the face of goal to his Estonian international teammate Martin Miller, with Miller on hand to slot home past Mannus.

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But they were handed a bolt from the blue on the stroke of half-time, as Burke found the top corner with a wonderful strike.

The former Aston Villa and Preston midfielder latched onto a goalmouth scramble after Dylan Watts' corner broke down.

O'Brien and Rory Gaffney went close, but it was Burke who was on hand to see his strike nestle into the top corner, giving Rovers hope at the break.

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This was by no means a vintage Hoops performance, but it was one that emphasised their apparent quality.

And that strike from Burke proved to be the tonic for a much-improved Rovers performance, but it was not without its own concerns.

Shamrock Rovers Suffer Defeat Against Flora Tallinn

The Hoops were undone on the break once again, but Mannus was on hand to save from Sappinen who marauded down the pitch.

It was a massive save from the Northern Irish netminder who denied his impressive Estonian opponent after a mistimed interception from Roberto Lopes.

Bradley's charges were almost punished for some more sloppy play moments later, but Sappinen again could not convert after a deft touch from Vassijev.

But they would be punished for that slack defending with Sappinen netting his second of the night in the 76th minute of the game.

The 25-year-old fired home the rebound from an impromptu Zenjov shot, with the Hoops' defensive frailties laid bare.

Substitute Daniel Mandroiu then went close himself from with a low effort, but it would clip off the post and wide.

They did, however, nab a second thanks to a Liam Scales header, but they would be undone again shortly after.

Sean Hoare - who was part of a Shamrock Rovers back three who were exposed all night - was undone by Sappinen.

Sappinen would then lay the ball off to Miller, who slammed his effort home into the roof of the net, leaving Rovers with a mountain to climb.

It might not be all over, but they have it all to do next week. That goes without saying.

SEE ALSO: Shane Duffy Rubbishes Notion He Can't Play In Possession Focused Teams

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