By Ronan Murphy
|SPOTLIGHT: SPARTAK TRNAVA
|Coach Pavel Hoftych is very pragmatic. Trnava usually play a 4-2-3-1 with a very solid defence and at least one strong holder in midfield.
The right back, Michal Habanek, is only 18, and an up-and-coming Slovak star. He gets forward very well, has pace and some extraordinary skill for a full-back.
The real personality of the team is Miroslav Karhan, who is 36 now but has played 107 games for Slovakia and could play the domestic league with his eyes closed. His role varies according to need. Nominally, he is one of the 2 in the 4-2-3-1 but Hoftych has said he likes him to play freely, to go all over the pitch dictating the play.
Hoftych prefers a taller striker who can win things in the air and hold the ball up but he has not quite found the right man yet, though Karel Pavelka and Ladislav Tomacek are candidates for the role.
Overall, the impression they left on most observers last year was of a very strong, very organised team but perhaps a little reliant on Karhan and one which, apart from him, did not quite have the individual quality or flair to get the better of Zilina over the course of the league campaign.
The best-supported club in the country, they possess a very 'together' support and it could be a bit intimidating there.
In 16 European games, Sligo Rovers have recorded just one win. That was back in 1994 against Maltese minnows Floriana FC to earn the Bit O'Red passage to the First Round of the Cup Winners' Cup.
Last year's European endeavour saw them go out two games into the campaign as a result of a 2-0 aggregate loss to FC Vorskla Poltava. However, the FAI Cup winners are a much improved proposition this year, and find themselves sitting at the top of the Airtricity Premier League table after 16 games.
When manager Paul Cook left for Accrington Stanley ahead of the new season, many Sligo fans were unsure of his replacement, with Leicester-born Ian Baraclough not exactly becoming a household name during his short stint as Scunthorpe United manager.
The 41-year-old has won over supporters with a disciplined approach that has the team playing attacking football, helped by the signings of top scorer Danny North as well as regular starters David Cawley and Ross Gaynor.
North has been a sensation in red, hitting 17 goals in all competitions since joining from St Patrick's Athletic. In fact, the Grimbsy striker's form has attracted attention from overseas and spurred Baraclough to offer him an extended contract, hoping his goals can lead the club to bigger things in the next few years.
"I think it shows the intent of the football club," Baraclough said after signing North until the end of 2013. "We are not just looking short-term for this season, we are also looking at the following season. This club needs to grow year on year, it's not a case of 'win something and that's job done'."
Baraclough has built a strong side, bringing in goalkeeper Gary Rogers to replace Brendan Clarke, while the return of Romuald Boco from China and the addition of Haitian Pascal Millien has given the fans something to cheer about while also offering strength in depth. Both have lined out as part of Baraclough's three-man attack, and with Joseph Ndo and Raffaele Cretaro offering support to North, Sligo have ample room to rotate the squad between European and domestic games. In fact, Baraclough has faith in his reserves telling the pre-match press conference that he was confident in his players. "We’ve got a competitive squad that can absorb game after game in a short space of time," he said.
The Bit O'Red boss is determined to snatch something from Thursday night's tie in Trnava, and after watching his opponents in action last week, feels that a good result is achievable. "They are technically good, they are physically well built but by no means do we go there in trepidation and with fear," Baraclough said. "We think we can come back with a positive result. It is important we go over there with no fear and not worry about the other team and their players.
"We’ve got to be compact defensively and we’ve got make sure we don’t give away sloppy ball in front of our own goal. But apart from that we can go there and certainly impose our style of football and go and express ourselves as well."
Having conceded just 10 goals and scored 26 in the league this season, it's a strong possibility that Sligo Rovers may actually record that much-desired second ever European win.