DAVID SMITH - Thursday, July 21, 2016
Will John will likely be the only American in action in Thursday's Europa League qualifying, as RoPS will try to overcome Croatian opponents Lokomotiva to reach the third round.
NK Lokomotiva - RoPS (agg. 1-1)
With the score knotted at one goal apiece after the home leg in Finland, the onus will be on Will John and RoPS to score if they hope to have any hope of getting past Lokomotiva to continue their European run.
After being rested and only used as a substitute during their weekend league game, John should regain his place in the RoPS attack against other European foes.
The 1-1 home-leg draw last week does put the pressure on RoPS to score in order to cancel out Lokomotiva's away goal, although with an eight-game streak of putting at least one past their opponents, they are unlikely to be shut out on this occasion.
They did so twice over the weekend in beating league rivals Lahti 2-1 in Veikkausliiga play, and are in fine form as of late, with their last loss in any competition coming nearly two months ago when they dropped a league game to SJK. Since then, they have five wins and four draws.
By contrast, Lokomotiva suffered an embarrassing 3-1 derby loss to city rivals Dinamo Zagreb in the opening game of their domestic season over the weekend. This will put momentum firmly on the side of the Finns, although the combination of pressure and momentum can also be the formula for abject frustration.
Perry Kitchen will be left out of the Hearts squad on Thursday when they try to finish off Maltese opponents Birkirkara FC. With the aggregate scoreless after the first leg, any victory will do for Hearts, although they would lose out on away goals in the case of a non-scoreless draw.