Report: Rovers 0-1 Bala Town (Agg: 1-1) (Rovers win 4-3 on pens)

Sligo Rovers qualified for the Europa Conference League Second Qualifying Round on Thursday night following a penalty shoot out win against Bala Town at The Showgrounds.

Rovers had lead the tie 2-1 on aggregate coming into the game following victory away from home last week, but Bala came with a game plan and executed it to perfection in front of a sold out Showgrounds, winning the game 1-0 on the night, ensuring we went to extra time and then the nail biting penalty shoot out.

They took the lead on 35 minutes when David Edwards steered home Lassana Mendes’ cross.

Rovers came close soon after with Shane Blaney’s free kick skimming the crossbar but it was 1-0 to the visitors at the break.

The second half started with Rovers putting on some early pressure to try and get an equaliser. Wll Fitzgerald came on for Frank Liivak at the break and the Limerick man drove forward down the left at every opportunity.

Bala were a threat on the counter and Mendes almost doubled their lead after he met Chris Venebles’ cross from the right but shot at Ed McGinty.

Rovers forced a few corners and on 60 minutes Bala broke from one and midfielder James Davies raced through on goal with Colm Horgan in close proximity. Davies was one on one with McGinty but the ‘keeper smothered the ball brilliantly at his feet to keep Rovers in it.

John Russell introduced Lewis Banks for Colm Horgan and Cillian Heaney for Max Mata in the second half as Rovers looked for the all important equaliser to take us through.

Long spells of possession meant Rovers kept pressing but didn’t create any clear cut chances. Aidan Keena had a half chance as the Bala goalkeeper Alexander Ramsay spilled the ball near his feet but he didn’t react in time to tap it into the net.

The game ended in normal time with 7 additional minutes played and neither side able to break each other down, meaning we headed to extra time.

Adam McDonnell made way for Kailin Barlow ten minutes into the first half and the local Academy graduate found himself in possession in midfield on many occasions as we looked to probe forward. Fitzgerald and Paddy Kirk raided down the left wing time after time but again the Bit O’ Red created no clear cut chances and the visitors threatened each time they broke.

The Showgrounds was in full voice throughout the night as the home support tried to help the team over the line.

Barlow had a shot from distance and Cillian Heaney almost teed up Aidan Keena but the defence cleared their lines.

The biggest chance of extra time fell to the visitors. The ball was sent into the Rovers’ penalty area and somehow David Edwards hit the crossbar and another Bala forward’s rebound did the same thing and it was cleared.

This saw us head to penalties in front of a packed out Pet Stop Stand with the tension around the ground clear to see.

Chris Venebles stepped up first and scored and Rovers’ skipper David Cawley levelled matters soon after.

Johnny Spittle’s spot kick was saved by McGinty and Aidan Keena drove home for Rovers to put us in front.

David Edwards scored Bala’s third before Paddy Kirk smashed home his penalty to bring it to 3-2.

Defender Anthony Kay rolled his spot kick into the bottom corner to bring Bala level but Shane Blaney powered his home after to put Rovers back in front.

Bala’s last kick went to James Wall who had to score to keep his sides hope alive but McGinty saved it down to his left to cap a Man of The Match performance and take Rovers through to the next round.

We now face Motherwell of Scotland next Thursday night at 7.45pm at Fir Park before welcoming them to The Showgrounds for the 2nd Leg a week later.