Crusaders a step closer to clash with Wolves as Shamrock Rovers grab draw in Norway
Europa League qualifying first round, first leg: SK Brann 2 Shamrock Rovers 2; Crusaders 2 B36 Tórshavn 0; Malmo FF 7 Ballymena United 0
CRUSADERS moved a step to closer to a glamour tie with Wolverhampton Wanderers thanks to a two-goal victory over their visitors from the Faroe Islands at Seaview last night.
Goals in each half from debutant defender Chris Hegarty and midfielder Philip Lowry put the Crues in command ahead of next week's return leg.
It could have been for Stephen Baxter's men, only for Jordan Owens to have an early penalty saved, while Arni Frederiksberg hit the crossbar with the visitors' only effort of note.
The Crues, who earned their European spot by beating Ballinamallard United 3-0 in the Irish Cup final in May, will now be licking their prospect of going toe-to-toe with the English Premiership's Wolves. As long as they clear the hurdle of next week's return tie in the Faroe Islands.
Roberto Lopes was the hero for Shamrock Rovers in Norway, scoring twice against Brann to secure a priceless first leg away draw for Stephen Bradley's side.
Jack Byrne's deliveries proved dangerous all evening and Lopes' stoppage-time equaliser put the Dubliners in control of the tie.
The home side opened the scoring after 12-minutes through Taijo Teniste, who netted past Alan Mannus with a brilliantly struck dipping shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
Rovers worked their way into the match and registered a priceless away goal 12 minutes before half-time. Byrne curled an accurate free-kick into the Brann penalty area, where Lopes connected with a diving header to knock the ball home.
However, just a minute later, Lopes gave away a penalty at the other end. The defender fouled Veton Berisha in the box and the Brann striker made no mistake with his spot kick to put the Norwegians back in front.
Rovers had one of the best chances of an even second-half, but Aaron Greene failed to convert. Byrne played in Trevor Clarke with a clever pass beyond the Brann defence, the left-back squared the ball to Greene who somehow managed to hit the Brann goalkeeper from six-yards out with a tame, scuffed attempt on goal.
Rovers' chance t looked to be gone until Lopes powered home a header in the final minute of stoppage-time. The return leg is at Tallaght Stadium next Thursday.
Ballymena United, meanwhile, conceded seven without reply on their trip to Swedish side Malmo.
Last season's Danske Bank Premiership runners-up went into the game on the back of earning their club's first ever win in a European tie when they overcame NSI Runavik of the Faroe Islands 2-0 in the preliminary round.
And David Jeffrey's men held out for just more than half an hour in the Swedbank Stadion before Markus Rosenberg hit two goals in two minutes for the home team.
Erdal Rakip added a third on 44 minutes to leave the game over and done with before half-time. However, unfortunately for the visitors, there was to be no letting up in the second-half. Franz Brorsson made it 4-0 after the restart, then Rosenberg completed his hat-trick, with further goals coming from Guillermo Molins and Rakip.
The result leaves United with only pride to play for in next Thursday's second leg at the Showgrounds.