Shamrock Rovers continue their European adventure tonight with a tough tie in the snow and ice away to crack Russian outfit Rubin Kazan.
The pointless Hoops will be hoping to avenge their opening group A defeat to Kazan, when the Russians left Tallaght with an impressive 3-0 win.
This evening’s game is made all the tougher for Michael O’Neill’s men, however, by the fact that Rovers haven’t played a competitive game since the 3-1 defeat to PAOK Salonika four weeks ago.
O’Neill did bring his men to Sweden last week for a warm up friendly with Malmo, which the Hoops lost 2-0.
This is the second last opportunity Rovers will have to gain a historic first European group stage point, but O’Neill is well aware of the danger that Kazan represent.
Speaking ahead of the match, the Rovers manager said he fully expects the Russians to qualify out of the group with Tottenham.
But for Kazan to do that that, then a victory against Rovers is a must, given that their last game is away to PAOK, who they trail by a point going into the final two group games.
O’Neill’s only concern will be to get some sort of reward out of his teams involvement in the Europa League, which will end with am eagerly awaited home game against Harry Redknapp’s high flying Spurs.
The Rovers manager has picked a strong side for the clash with Kazan, packing his midfield to avoid being over-run in the same way they were when the sides last clashed.
Free-scoring Karl Sheppard will perform the lone frontman role, but will have adequate support coming from Stephen Rice and Billy Dennehy in the midfield.
Arch marksman Gary Twigg has been held back on the bench, with O’Neill admitting the Scotsman has been struggling to regain fitness due to injury.
O’Neill said: “He has had health problems and he tried to solve them without surgery and surgeons. As far as he is ready to play here in Russia, it’s difficult.”
Speaking on the match, O’Neill said: “It will be one of the most difficult games for us this season. We have already played against them and we know our strength and capabilities. I think Tottenham Hotspur and Rubin will progress to the next round but in football anything can happen, anything is possible.”
Shamrock Rovers: Thompson, Sullivan, Oman, Murray, Stevens Rice, Dennehy, Finn, Turner, Paterson, Sheppard.
Subs: Brush, O’Donnell, McCabe, Twigg, Kilduff, O’Neill, Ricketts.
Rubin Kazan: Ryzhikov, Kaleshin, Sharonov, Cesar Navas, Bocchetti, Ryazantsev, Noboa, Natcho, Karadeniz, Haedo Valdez, Martins.
Subs: Berezin, Ansaldi, Bystrov, Nemov, Kasaev, Dyadyun, Kverkvelia.