Mahon's men stall Rovers' progress
St Patrick’s Ath 0 Shamrock Rovers 0:IF HIS side is really to lift some silverware at this early stage of its development, then last night’s cup draw is probably of more significance to Pete Mahon and his men than the one that yielded a well -earned point against the champions in Richmond Park last night.
Having looked like slightly soft touches over the first few weeks, they’ll view this performance as one that can be built on in all competitions during the remainder of the season.
Friday’s respective wins kept Michael O’Neill’s side six points clear of their rivals and while the northerner was obliged to make one change to the side that beat Sligo due to Ken Oman’s suspension, tactically, they lined out here just as they had at home on Friday in Tallaght where they had made short enough work of the current cup holders when going forward.
Then, their three-man line of attack sitting just behind Gary O’Neill had caused Paul Cook’s Sligo side countless problems and the chances came steadily.
This time out it was all very different with Rovers finding life a good deal more challenging once they got into the last third of the pitch, primarily because of the intensity of the resistance mounted around their own area by the home side’s back four.
Central defence had been a major problem for the Inchicore outfit a few weeks back but they appear to have to coped a little better in the absence of Conor Kenna lately with two clean sheets in three victories immediately prior to this game, the latest phase of an improvement that had started with three draws in four during April.
The wins came against Drogheda, Galway and Bray, though, so this represented a slightly stiffer test of their growing confidence but even from early on, all the evidence was that they were ready.
And it wasn’t just at the back where Mahon’s men showed a determination to put it up to the champions. Spurred on perhaps by a feeling that he has a point to prove, Stephen Bradley was hugely influential in the centre of an improved midfield, organising those around him and regularly tidying up when team-mates looked to be in danger of losing their grip on things slightly.
For Rovers, it meant having to be rather more patient than they had been in front of their own fans over the weekend but they still must have been almost as surprised as the home side’s goalkeeper that probably their best chance of the first half came from a close-range Anto Murphy header towards his own goal that Gary Rogers had to react swiftly to.
At the other end, there were more clearcut opportunities for the lively looking partnership of Danny North and Daryl Kavanagh with the latter going closest of all when attempting to poke home a Brian Shorthall flick that Stephen Rice did well to deflect wide. Seconds later the visitors were back under pressure from the corner and this time it was Gary McCabe to made the goal-line clearance from Shorthall’s header.
It was promising stuff and the home support clearly appreciated their side’s effort against a side that had won the first league meeting between the two clubs this season 2-0.
The second half, though, didn’t quite deliver on the promise of the first from a local perspective for while Mahon’s men continued to cope well at the back in what was an entertaining contest, they struggled to get bodies forward in support of their strikers who, in the absence of options, tended to run into trouble.
Kavanagh provided the most glaring example of the problem when, early in the half, he cleverly slipped away from Pat Flynn out on the left but then showed far too much of the ball to Dan Murray as he neared the Rovers area having been left with little option but to keep on going.
For a spell, the balance of the contest seemed to shift towards the league leaders but not for long really. St Patrick’s steadied themselves over the closing stages and might have nicked a winner as easily as their opponents late on.
It was, however, Rovers who actually went closer three minutes from time when a throw-in from the right was only partially cleared and Paddy Kavanagh’s partially blocked shot spun beyond first Rogers and then, narrowly, as the goalkeeper looked helplessly on, the left hand angle of the woodwork.
Moments later Ian Daly sent a low ball skimming across the face of an almost undefended Rovers goal but Sean Stewart was a yard or two away from getting to turn it home at the far post.
Like his team, he should be happy enough so soon after what was a shaky enough start to the season, to have come so close to grabbing a winner.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Rogers; Pender, E McMillan, Shorthall, Bermingham; Murphy, Bradley, Crowley (Stewart, 65 mins), Doyle; Kavanagh (Daly, 83 mins), North (D McMillan, 87 mins).
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus; Sullivan, Flynn, Murray, Stevens; Rice (Dennehy, 60 mins), McCormack; Sheppard, Finn, McCabe (Kavanagh, 60 mins); O’Neill (Kilduff, 75 mins).
Referee: D Hancock (Dublin).