Jack Byrne made his 50th appearance for the club against Shelbourne on Friday. Rovers recorded scoreless draws in successive games for the first time since March 2013 away to Bohemians and Shelbourne.
It’s the first time that Rovers failed to score a goal in two consecutive games since the third and fourth league game of 2019 and only the second time it’s happened in the league since the start of 2017.
Rovers have come from behind to win on six occasions in all competitions since the Brann second leg last summer. 10 of the Hoops’ 20 goals this season have come in the last 20 minutes.
Rovers made their best start (seven wins) to a league season since 1965/66 and a run of 10 consecutive victories was also their longest sequence since winning the opening 11 in that 1965/66 campaign.
The Hoops are unbeaten in 14 competitive games and 12 in the league since a 3-2 defeat at Dundalk last September. Both of these are Stephen Bradley’s best runs as manager.
Rovers haven’t been beaten at Tallaght Stadium since June 2019, winning 13 out of 15 games since.
Ilves won the Finnish League championship in 1983 and the Finnish Cup on three occasions in 1979, 1990, and 2019.
On Saturday, ‘The Bobcats’ beat Lahti 3-1 at home to move up to sixth in the league table. It was only their second win in the last nine games.
Ilves had the second best defence last year when they conceded 25 goals in 27 games. This season they’ve already conceded 17 in the first 11 games and it’s the third worst defence in the Veikkausliiga.
Ilves finished fourth last year and qualified for Europe by virtue of winning their first Finnish Cup in 30 years. They were beaten 3-1 on aggregate by Slavia Sofia of Bulgaria in the first qualifying round of the 2018 Europa League, in what was their first European game since 1991.
All but four of the current Ilves squad were born in Finland; the others hail from Brazil, Ghana, Senegal and the Ivory Coast.
Ilves midfielder Lauri Ala-Myllymäki was the league’s second highest goalscorer last season with 12 goals. He has 3 so far in 2020.
Hoops in Europe
Ilves are the 18th club that Rovers will face in European competition since 2010 and only the fourth to be Cup holders in their country at the time. The others were Odds BK in 2015 and Flora Tallinn and Partizan in 2011, who were double winners.
The last time Rovers entered Europe as FAI Cup holders, the Hoops were beaten by Omonia Nicosia in the 1987 European Cup. Rovers’ last appearance on the back of a Cup win but no double was in the 1978 Cup Winners’ Cup.
Ronan Finn, Greg Bolger (injured) and Joey O’Brien have made 88 European appearances between them but they have never scored a goal. Finn has played 23 times for Rovers having broken Johnny Fullam’s club record in Bergen last year.
Neil Farrugia, Daniel Lafferty, Liam Scales and Rory Gaffney have never played a European game in their careers.
Eight players in the current squad have scored a European goal: Graham Burke has 3 (for Rovers in 2017) and so does Aaron Greene (for Sligo, St Pat’s and the Hoops in Cyprus last season). Roberto Lopes netted twice for Rovers in 2019 with Jack Byrne, Gary O’Neill and Lee Grace also scoring in that campaign. Aaron McEneff (Derry) and Rhys Marshall (Glenavon) have scored in European competition for other clubs.
Rovers haven’t kept a clean sheet in eight European games since Stjarnan at home in 2017. There was a run of 10 games without a clean sheet in 2011, including six group stage games.
Alan Mannus has kept three clean sheets in Europe for Rovers (2010 and 2011) but he has not managed it in any of his last 11 European appearances – four for Rovers and seven for St Johnstone, since the Saints’ 1-0 win in Minsk in 2013.
Rovers’ run of four European games unbeaten against AIK, Brann and Apollon Limassol was a club record. It was the second successive season in which the Hoops exited after extra-time.
Rovers won consecutive European home games for the first time since 1969 and 1978, which was the only other instance. The Hoops aim to go three home games unbeaten for the first time since a run of four from 1965 to 1967 against Zaragoza, Spora Luxembourg, Bayern Munich and Cardiff City at Dalymount Park.
Lee Grace in Cyprus became the third Rovers player to be sent off in a European match. Tony O’Connell and Marc Kenny also received red cards against Rapid Vienna (1964) and Altay Spor (1998) respectively.
Apollon last year was the first time that Rovers played a third different club from one European country. Dan Carr moved to Apollon after the tie and he now plays another former European opponent, RoPS Rovaniemi of Finland.
This is the first time that Rovers are seeded at the first hurdle of European competition since the Hoops lost to RoPS in 2016. Current Ilves player Janne Saskela scored for RoPs in the first leg in Tallaght.
The second leg of that RoPS tie in July 2016 saw Stephen Bradley take charge of his first game. On July 29th of this year, Bradley overtook Ray Treacy (1992-1996) as Rovers’ longest serving manager since John Giles (1977-1983). Only Paddy Coad (1949-1960) was at the helm longer than Giles.
Bradley has equalled Michael O’Neill’s three wins in Europe and is behind only John Giles on four. O’Neill won the most knockout ties (three).
There are no survivors from Bradley’s first match day squad in Lapland. Only Sean Boyd and Trevor Clarke were still on the club’s books by the 2019 season. Aaron Bolger had yet to make his first team debut back then.
Stephen Bradley is set to equal Liam Tuohy’s total of 12 European games in charge, behind only Michael O’Neill (16).
Ireland v Finland
Rovers this season can surpass Dundalk, St Pat’s and Cork City who are all tied on ten European ties won.
The club qualified for Europe for a sixth successive season. Their best run was eight from 1962 to 1969 and the League of Ireland record is held by Shelbourne (12) from 1995 to 2006.
Rovers are ranked 275th in UEFA’s coefficients, with Ilves Tampere in 393rd. In association rankings Ireland are in 42nd place, one above Finland.
Rovers Academy Director Shane Robinson played in the League of Ireland’s only ever win over Finnish opposition, scoring a goal for Drogheda in Helsinki in the 2006 UEFA Cup. Stephen Bradley was on the bench for both legs of the tie. Robinson also played in Finland for FC Haka for two seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Finnish clubs have knocked out Northern Ireland teams in six out of seven attempts, including Ilves over Glenavon in the 1991 Cup Winners’ Cup. They went out to Roma in the next round having held the Italians to a draw in the first leg. Ilves’ only other positive result was a 2-0 home win over Rangers in the 1986 UEFA Cup but they lost 4-0 in the return leg at Ibrox.