SLIGO ROVERS bowed out of Europe for season 2012/2013 after a 1-1 draw by Spartak Trnava in front of an official attendance of 3,754 fans at the Showgrounds last night (Thursday).
Rovers suffered a 4-2 aggregate defeat overall in this Europa League second qualifying round against Slovakian opposition which can only be described as average/middling, at best.
Not even four minutes of added time could change that fact. There was at least a fine consolation goal by Jason McGuinness in the 92nd minute when he head in a free kick from, who else, Joseph N'Do.
The old showband maxim in the days of Dickie Rock was to "send them home sweating;" ie if the crowds got gallons of adrenalin going, they would always come back for more.
True, Sligo fans saw the unbeaten home run extended last night and, true, the crowds will come back for more when second-placed Drogheda United come to the Showgrounds for next weeks top of the table clash.
That match is effectively a six pointer and if Rovers win it they would have to damn near fall down drunk, and every weekend too, to lose the League title.
But truth be told, there was little to sweat about about in last night's European encounter in the Showgrounds, 'though Gavin Peers late goal last week in Trnava had given some (false) hope.
The issue had effectively been sealed in those awful eight minutes before half time in north eastern Slovakia last week when Rovers conceded three quick goals. See Video below
Last night, the tie -- and the tide -- turned away from Sligo as early as the 26th minute in the return leg when Danny North, leading scorer in the League, had his penalty kick saved by goalie Miroslav Filipko.
Filipko, aged 39, had been booked just a minute earlier as he pulled down Benin international Romuald Boco -- easily Sligo's best player last night -- for the dream penalty chance.
Visions of Rovers greatest night in Europe flickered briefly to life but North -- Rovers reliable penalty kick taker - choose to blast his kick rather than place it.
The 6ft-2in Spartak keeper became the hero to the 150-200 fans who had travelled to Sligo from Slovakia and enjoyed the rare sunshine around town all day as they shared sips with the Sligo fans.....well, at least they shared venues along the Garavogue.
The postcards home will surely mention the sunshine in Sligo, in sharp contrast to the rainstorm which descended on last week's fixture.
The limitations in attacking of the Rovers pool of players was also laid bare when North had to retire injured within three minutes of second half.
Danny North's penalty miss came at the end of a frenetic five minutes in which Rovers twice went close, both from set pieces.
First, in the 22nd minute, Joseph Ndo’s corner was headed goalward by Jason McGuinness but Danny Ventre’s touched the ball and only diverted it over the bar.
That corner had been won won after some skillful and crisp interplay which involved N'Do, Danny North, David Cawley and Romuald Boco.
Then, some further interplay in the 24th involving Boco, N'Do and North won a corner which N'Do flighted across for Gavin Peers to head over.
The Sligo penalty award came inside two more minutes, the 26th, but the third set-piece in six minutes for Sligo yielded nothing only heartbreak.
Boco won yet another corner in the 29th minute but David Cawley blazed over.
There had been little of consequence to report in the opening 20 minutes. Sligo had started the game with Rafael Cretaro -- who had caused caused Spartak so much trouble in Trnava -- forced out through injury.
Sligo got off to an edgy start and in the 7th and 8th minutes nerves showed as, first Gavin Peers, failed to clear and then one minute later Danny Ventre gave away a ball. Luckily neither chance came to anything. Trnava had shown its own nerves as early as the third minute when its goalkeeping hero, Filipko, of the night suggested he could always be troubled by crosses and corners.
Spartak's early danger men last night were last week's goalscorers - - Martin Mikovic and Miroslav Karhan, Slovakia's most capped international and now in the twilight of his career.
Rovers first real chance last night came in the 12th minute when Ross Gaynor crossed but there was nobody in the box.
Danny Ventre was booked in the 34th minute but in the 38th minute he pounced on a ball breaking off a defender but took too much out of the ball and tried to take it around the Spartak 'sticks minder' and went down. There was never going to be a second penalty.
Sligo's had dominated last night's game from the 20th minute but two items right on half time recalled the bad omens which occurred at the same time on the clock in the first leg.
First, Danny North pulled up with injury in the 46th minute and a stretcher was sent for after the half time whistle sounded. Then on the way to the dressing room Gavin Peers seemed to be booked for dissent.
Super Free Kick
Sligo never quite showed the dame penetration in the second 45 minutes. The Trnava manager ( Pavel Hoftych) made two substitutions just after the hour mark which 'squeezed' Sligo's chances for creativity.
The 'squeeze' almost paid dividends for Spartak when in the 63rd minute Martin Mikovic -- Slovak Under 21 international and their two goal hero inside a minute last week -- found himself with grazing space in the Showgrounds but the danger was cleared. In the 70th minute disaster struck for Rovers when Peter Cvirik scored with a super free kick.
This left the aggregate score at 4-1 but worse, because it was an 'away' goal, it meant Sligo would have to score three times in the final twenty minutes to bring the game to extra time -- a piece of European history the Showgounds would have welcomed.
Rovers had failed to score two goals in 70 minutes -- which would have put them through. They were unlikely to score three times in 20 minutes. It would have been like hiking up and down Ben Bulben and Knocknarea in the darkness....not to mention the enveloping air of gloom which now descended on the game.
Just seven minutes after coming on, the Spartak substitute Michael Gasparik hit the crossbar in the 74th minute, with Gary Rogers beaten, after sneaking inside the defence.
The good news from last night's knockout is that Rovers are now free to concentrate on bring the first League title top the Showgrounds since 1977.
The further good news for Rovers is that other Irish side, St Patricks Athletic, won its European tie last night -- in extra time. Sligo will not now have to travel next Sunday afternoon to meet St Pats, third-placed in in the Airtricity League, which had been scheduled for Inchicore.
That will offer some welcome respite for Danny North to recover following his 48th minute substitution after injury last night in the Showgrounds.
Those who had who seen the Slovakian players walking down Pearse Road from their hotel remarked on how big they looked. It was also the most remarked-on feature when Trnava, from north east Slovakia, took the field last night.
The winners now meet top Romanian side Steaua Bucuresti of Bucharest in the next round, next week.
The overall result seems a foregone conclusion; on the evidence of both games against Sligo Rovers, Trnava are not in the top tier, nor even the second or third tier in Europe. Trnava may be 'big men' but they not, in any sense, 'giants among men' in football terms.
Finally, smaller numbers last last night but the Trnava staged its mini pageant of raised hands and handclaps, with its fans joining in, at the end of last night's game in Sligo, just as it does at all its games. Now there is an idea which will be copied!
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers, Gavin Peers, Seamus Conneely, Jason McGuinness, Romuald Boco, Joseph N'Do, Danny Ventre, David Cawley, Ross Gaynor, Paschal Millien, Danny North. Subs: Mark Quigley for North 48th minute; Lee Lynch for Danny Ventre 72nd minute; Ryan Connolly for Paschal Millien 78th minute. Not used: Richard Brush, Alan Keane, Iarfhlaith Davoren, Jeff Henderson.
Spartak Trnava: Miroslav Filipko; Lubos Hanzel, Peter Cvirik, Marek Janecka, Vlastimil Stozicky; Mario Bisak, Miroslav Karhan, Patrik Gross, Ivan Schranz, Martin Vyskocil, Martin Mikovic. Subs: Patrick Carnota for Martin Vyskocil 62 minute; Michael Gasparik for Martin Mikovic 67th minute; Jiri Koubsky for Ivan Schranz 85th minute. Not used: Martin Raska, Michael Habanek, Karol Pavelka, Ladislav Tomacek.