After their adventures in the Ukraine last week, Sligo Rovers host Vorskla Poltava tomorrow, Thursday, in The Showgrounds (KO 5.45) with a very real chance of advancing to the play-off stages of the Europa League.
Against a team who are currently second in their domestic league, behind Shaktar Donestk and ahead of Dynamo Kiev, not many had given Rovers a chance of progressing but having more than held their own last week in Poltava there is reason to suggest an upset may still be on the cards.
Of course the Ukrainians will still be many people’s favourites to advance. After all, the finances at their disposal mean defeat against Rovers would be considered a real failure. Vorskla play in a 25,000 seater stadium and have a reputed wage budget of €7m at their disposal.
While The Showgrounds may not be a match for the Butovsky Memorial Vorskla Stadium in terms of capacity, the work that has been undertaken at the venue in recent weeks has been nothing short of phenomenal.
The pitch has been lengthened, every inch of the ground has been painted, the entrance has been freshened up and temporary seats have been installed on the railway end.
The fear was that a heavy defeat in the Ukraine would make Thursday’s match an anti-climax but last week’s 0-0 draw mean the tie is very much alive and the fact they created several excellent scoring opportunities will surely give further confidence that an upset is a possibility.
In Poltava, both Raffaele Cretaro an Alan Kirby had great opportunities to secure an all-important away goal but it is also worth noting that goalkeeper Brendan Clarke made several vital saves to keep his side in the game in the opening stages.
Nevertheless the tie is still very much alive and although they have to guard against the concession of an away goal, the simple fact remains that if Rovers win they advance to the lucrative play-off stages where they could be drawn against one of the glamour sides of European football.
The game is the talk of Sligo and further afield with all 3,700 tickets selling out even before an opponent was known.
With the team currently sitting clear at the top of the Airtricty Premier League and having registered 10 consecutive clean sheets in all competitions, it would be easy to belief Rovers are a defensive outfit who look to play on the counter-attack. However, it is the opposite that is the case.
With flair players such as Alan Kirby, Richie Ryan and the influential Joseph Ndo dictating matters in the middle of the pitch and the likes of Eoin Doyle and Matthew Blinkhorn chipping in with the all important goals, manager Paul Cook has moulded a team that has been winning plaudits from pundits all season long.
At the other end centre-backs Gavin Peers and Jason McGuinness have developed an excellent understanding and are crucial to the team’s chances of advancing.
Vorskla Poltava remain favourites to advance to the next round but among the Bit O’Red faithful there is a feeling that a shock may very well be on the cards.