Molde did enough to back up Shamrock Rovers' boss Stephen Bradley’s belief that they are the strongest side the Hoops will come up against in their Europa Conference League group, as they breezed past the League of Ireland side at the Aker Stadion.
The Dubliners did little to trouble a much stronger opposition on what was a chastening night for Rovers, who now sit bottom of Group F with just one point and three games to go.
Ola Brynhildsen scored a goal in each half for the Scandinavians, who racked up 26 attempts at goal in this game. Etzaz Hussain netted Molde’s third in the second half, capitalising on an Alan Mannus mistake.
With vital league points up for grabs this weekend, the Rovers management surely had Sunday's visit of Shelbourne to Tallaght (live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player) in mind when picking their starting team.
The Hoops boss rotated his side, making five changes from an easy win over Sligo Rovers last Saturday. Aidomo Emakhu, Aaron Greene, Andy Lyons, Justin Ferizaj and Sean Hoare all returned having not being named in the starting eleven at the Showgrounds, while star players Jack Byrne and Graham Burke, both pivotal in the Sligo win, were benched.
So accustomed to dictating play in their games on the domestic scene, Rovers spent very little time with the ball in the Molde half in the opening '45.
Described by Bradley this week as 'the best team in the group’, Erling Moe’s side dominated play and were unfortunate not to lead by more than Brynhildsen’s opener at the interval.
Apprehensive at the back, the Dubliners sat back and struggled to deal with the rise in standard early on.
Kristian Eriksen slashed wide after eight minutes after Martin Linnes’ cross from the right was only cleared as far as the edge of the Rovers area, while sloppy defending allowed the Eliteserien outfit to take the lead ten minutes in.
Rovers had plenty of men back, but allowed Magnus Grodem backheel across the front of the six-yard box for Brynhildsen to hammer past Mannus.
The remainder of the half belonged to the run-away Norwegian league leaders. The freedom which winger Linnes had on the Molde right side, in particular caused issues for the Hoops. The Molde captain was his effort on 18 minutes deflected away by Andy Lyons after Linnes had floated inside.
Eriksen forced a decent two-handed stop from Mannus after further poor defending from the visitors shortly after, while Gary O’Neill almost turned a Molde corner into his own goal less than 60 seconds later.
The Irish side continued to live dangerously and Molde should have had a second just shy of the half hour mark. Erik Haugan managed to get goal side of his marker, but the 25-year-old could only nod wide of the target. Hussain then went close before half-time but couldn't convert from close range.
Any hopes of a fresh start for Rovers were dashed four minutes after the re-start.
Eriksen’s drive from the angle bounced off the underside of Mannus’ crossbar, the ball falling nicely for the incoming Brynhildsen who, beating Ronan Finn in the air, nodded into an empty net at the back post.
Molde extended their lead on 58 minutes when Mannus failed to deal with what seemed a straightforward situation when he mishandled another Linnes cross under his own bar. Hussain following up on the loose ball, volleying past the experienced net-minder.
Substitute Rory Gaffney did have Rovers’ only effort on 64 minutes, when he fired into Jacob Karlstrom’s side netting. Meanwhile the stretching Hussain was inches away from his brace when he fell just short of Brynhildsen’s glancing header at the front post.
There was some good news for the travelling fans with the introduction of the returning Roberto Lopes from the bench for the last 20 or so minutes, his first appearance since picking up a serious knee injury in July.
Mannus did restore some confidence late on when he pulled off a superb save to deny Hussain’s effort which looked destined for the far corner.
Molde: Karlstrom; Breivik, Haugan, Risa, Lovik; Linnes (Bolly 71), Mannsverk (Eikrem 71), Hussain; Grodem (Kaasa 71), Brynhildsen, Eriksen.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Hoare, Cleary, Grace; Finn (Lopes 68), Lyons; Kavanagh (Burke 79), O’Neill, Ferizaj (Farrugia 68); Greene (Watts 79), Emakhu (Gaffney 55).
Referee: Milos Milanovic (Serbia).