Shamrock Rovers 0-2 Rovaniemi
There was to be no mid-seasonal joy from Lapland for Shamrock Rovers as their Europa League aspirations look all but over after this chastening defeat at Tallaght Stadium.
Jarkko Lahdenmaki and Janne Saksela scored in each half for RoPS as the poor attendance of 1908 made their feeling knows after the second goal went in and at the final whistle.
Rovers now face a mammoth task in trying to overturn the tie when they travel to Rovaniemi in northern Finland next week.
Rovers’ boss Pat Fenlon made just the one change from the side that drew with Cork City last Friday in the league with Killian Brennan returning from suspension to play in the hole behind Gary Shaw.
RoPS included two senior internationals in their starting eleven, Finland midfielder Saksela and their skipper Abdou Jammeh who is also the captain of Gambia.
A promising start by Rovers saw Gavin Brennan’s diagonal run end with his shot being deflected out for a corner inside the opening minute.
RoPS were then opened up on the right on 10 minutes with Patrick Cregg putting Simon Madden away to cross. Killian Brennan had fouled a defender as he jumped for the header as the chance was lost.
Despite shading possession, Rovers were dealt a major blow in the context of the tie when they conceded a shocking goal on 26 minutes.
It initially stemmed from right-back Madden’s over-hit back header not being kept in by Craig Hyland to gift RoPS their first corner of the game.
And though Saksela’s delivery was headed away by Rovers’ skipper Stephen McPhail, Robert Taylor picked up the loose ball to drill a shot into the area that was deflected to the net off the body of Lahdenmaki to give the Finns an away goal.
Rovers struggled to create much in the final third as they pressed to get back into the game before the interval, though they failed miserably to force a save from visiting keeper Antonio Reguero.
Killian Brennan did have an opportunity to work the Spaniard on 40 minutes, after he won a free kick from Mamut Saine. His deadball effort did beat the defensive wall but was wide of Reguero’s right-hand post.
Buoyed by their lead, it was RoPS who might have doubled their advantage on 43 minutes.
Sean Heaney did well initially to block a shot from Taylor after Lahdenmaki had crossed from the right.
Juha Pirinen pounced on the rebound to crack a 25-yard shot that wasn't too far over Hyland’s crossbar.
As in the first half, Rovers started the second on the front foot with Gavin Brennan again the one coming close four minutes in.
McPhail’s ball in from the left was partially cleared only to find Brennan who fired over the top from just inside the area.
Fenlon brought on Dean Clarke for Gavin Brennan 11 minutes in and it almost worked the oracle within a minute.
Madden fed Clarke for the striker cut back onto his right foot to finally work Reguero for the first time with a crisp drive the keeper parried away at the butt of his left-hand post.
But it proved a false dawn as, for all Rovers’ endeavour, RoPS broke for their second goal on 74 minutes.
Delightful work on the left from substitute Aleksandr Kokko saw him ghost past two Rovers defenders to set up Saksela to finish with a well-placed side foot shot from 16 yards.
Rovers tried to respond with Brandon Miele doing well to make space and fire in a shot that Reguero did well to tip onto his crossbar.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; Simon Madden, Rob Cornwall, Sean Heaney, David O’Connor; Patrick Cregg, Stephen McPhail (Sean Boyd 86); Gavin Brennan (Dean Clarke 56), Killian Brennan (Gary McCabe 75), Brandon Miele; Gary Shaw.
RoPS Rovaniemi: Antonio Reguero; Jarkko Lahdenmaki, Abdou Jammeh, Juuso Hamalainen, Juha Pirinen; Michal Mravec, Mamut Saine (Mika Makitalo 82); Janne Saksela, Robert Taylor, Jean Fridoin Nganbe (Eetu Muinonen 70); William Oluremi John (Aleksankr Kokko 68).
Referee: Georgios Kominis (Greece).