Lack of pep takes the fizz out of leaders
THERE'S hardly a more picturesque sight in the domestic game: the sun kissed, snow peaked tops of Benbulbin in the background on a crisp afternoon. However, while the switch to Sunday afternoon at the behest of the RTE cameras is all well and good in the wider interests of the domestic game, some grounds are best served by night time fare and the Showgrounds is one of them.
No sparks flew as one of the National League's fiercest rivalries was renewed. It was as if the circumstances combined to put the game under sedation. Pat Kelly, naturally enough, was chosen to referee potentially one of the season's most combustible affairs and from the outset, without recourse to yellow cards, hem was having no nonsense. There was little of it in the air anyway, a lower than average crowd of 3,000 failing to ignite a strangely subdued contest.
After a lively start, galvanised by Sligo's fourth minute breakthrough, the contest ultimately petered out into an anti climactic ending. Once St Patrick's rode out the early crisis, and after equalising early in the second period, there was an inevitability about the outcome. Although Rovers' greater attacking intent and willingness to push men forward could have won it for them.
For all St Patrick's protestations to the contrary, their 4-3-2-1 formation is more conservative away from home, and Ricky O'Flaherty ploughed a fairly lonely furrow. The Rovers manager, Steve Cotterill, may have been a bit myopic in claiming afterwards that he thought "only one team looked like they wanted to win the match", but if any team deserved to take three points it was his.
St Patrick's may not be a one man team, but they chronically miss the off the cuff inventiveness of Eddie Gormley. As their faithful regularly remind us, there is only one Eddie Gormley. The three successive draws since he was sidelined appears to confirm the point. The sequence has also seen their seven point lead whittled down to one by a remorseless Shelbourne. Tight organisation will always make them hard to beat, but Gormley makes them more liable to win. Sadly, the diagnosis (knee ligament damage) doesn't point to a short term return.
Still, Sligo would gladly swap places with them. The failure to beat Dublin opposition for the 10th time in 12 encounters leaves them heading to Bohemians in win or bust mode. "I thought we had to win that one," Cotterill conceded. "Obviously, nine points behind and with eight games to go, we're running out of games.
Re uniting the more prolific Padraig Moran with Ian Gilzean, and employing the lively but still scoreless James Mulligan and Aidan Rooney on the flanks, their attacking enthusiasm was initially given every encouragement. Early goals dictate much and St Patrick's paid the ultimate price for a sluggish start when Rovers struck within four minutes of the kick off. From a defensive point of view, it was a relatively soft goal to concede.
Andy Ramage brought the ball down on half way, whereupon John Byrne's tackle directed it to Sligo full back, Davey Reid. He played an excellent first time, ball up the inside right channel for the ever alert Moran to out run Peter Carpenter. There still shouldn't have been too much of an immediate threat to the St Patrick's goal, but Moran cut inside Carpenter and beat Gareth Byrne at his near post with a low drive. It was the striker's 10th league goal of the season.
St Patrick's were evidently taken aback. They did have their chances for a quick riposte: Paul Campbell's perfectly placed, eighth minute free, which dipped and curled inside the angle, was tipped over by Mark McLean, while the Sligo goalkeeper subsequently kept out a similar effort by Brian Morrisroe.
Here again, though, as with four first half corners, you wondered what Gormley might have done. In open play, Sligo continued to look the more dangerous. Moran almost re enacted his goal when latching onto Gavin Dykes long ball after 17 minutes, but he shot into the side netting.
However, Brian Kerr's half time pep talk had the desired effect. Pressing quickly for an equaliser, St Patrick's were level within seven minutes of the resumption. Paul Campbell adroitly hooked Willie Burke's throw in across the area from the bye line, and though McLean kept out Dave Campbell's initial downward header, the centre half calmly nodded home the rebound or his fourth league goal of the season.
For a spell, St Patrick's looked the likelier winners, but Sligo gradually regained the initiative before the end to test a St Patrick's defence now with its bearings back. By and large, a Sligo reshuffle, which saw Mulligan revert to attack and Moran to the left flank, didn't work, but Byrne saved superbly - one handed - from a downward header by Gilzean from Brendan Aspinall's cross.
Luck wasn't with Rovers, after 77 minutes, when Mulligan sprung the visitors' well orchestrated offside trap, only to see his pull back intercepted by John McDonnell and deflect off Byrne's face and across his goal.
Paul Osam could have stolen all three points for St Patrick's with a route one counter raid, but McLean's right foot kept out his weak shot. That would have: been cruelly unjust on Sligo, but it's time to overcome their Dublin hoodoo next week. The point of no return.