Penalty steals it for Shelbourne
IF Shelbourne's New Year resolution was to stop drawing matches they should be winning and start winning matches they should be losing, then, for one day at least, they've been as good as their word. For Shamrock Rovers and the majority of a 4,400 RDS attendance alas, nothing changes.
The Hoops began the year as they ended the last one, losing a home match by 1-0 in which they've had the majority of the play and the chances. It seems to have been ever thus with Rovers, save for the golden year of 1994.
Instead, Rovers were left to rue missed chances, several of which fell to Padraig Dully. This is not to blame the ex-Shels man entirely, for at least he was getting into goal-scoring positions, something his striking foil Mark Reid and the Rovers' midfield quartet largely failed to do. Nevertheless, three times Dully was left in a one-on-one situation with Shelbourne goalkeeper Alan Gough and three times he failed to score.
"You'd expect him to convert one of them at least," reflected his manager Ray Treacy ruefully. "But there's no need to criticise him. Nobody feels worse about it than Padraig Dully." Singling out the lively Derek McGrath, who was pushed to the right of midfield - but still roved inside intelligently - to accommodate debutant central midfielder Rod de Khors, Treacy added: "The game could have been over in the first half-hour. We carved them up.
The first two offerings came in an utterly one-sided opening quarter when Rovers could have wrapped up the contest every bit as neatly as anything Santa delivered a week beforehand. Dully did everything right after five minutes in laying Derek Treacy's through ball to Reid and bringing the return chip under control with his head before deftly lobbing the advancing Gough with a waist high flick which missed the far post by a whisker.
Ray Duffy's timely sliding tackle denied Dully another clear opening after 11 minutes. Three minutes later Reid and McGrath combined for the latter's superb through ball to release Dully but, with just Gough to beat, he shot into the side netting.
To compound Rovers' woes, barely another two minutes elapsed before Shelbourne pushed up in a line way too late, leaving De Khors to run on to McGrath's through ball. Pegged back by Dave Smith, by the time De Khors gave the supporting John Toal a simple tap-in the latter had drifted offside.
Probably far too much hinges on the mercurial Anthony Sheridan for SheIs' liking and in particular their manager Damien Richardson, who again shouted himself hoarse from the far touchline during the ex-Coventry man's desultory first-half.
Yet the two heading chances which came the way of Dave Tilson and Geoghegan both came courtesy of Sheridan crosses before he dispossessed Mullen to drift inside and sting the fingers of Alan O'Neill, celebrating the beginning of his third decade in the National League.
Rovers picked up the tempo once more upon the resumption. McGrath, yet again, slipped past one defender after 53 minutes and slipped Dully in, but he shot straight at Gough, who stood up well. On the hour Geoghegan tested O'Neill, as did Tilson two minutes later, before what Richardson described as "a moment of magic" by Sheridan swung the game SheIs' way.
Gliding on to Dave Smith's through ball after neat work on the right, Sheridan pushed the ball inside Leonard Curtis and looped around his outside before inviting the rash, and fatal, sliding tackle. There were no quibbles about the penalty, saved firmly to his right by O'Neill before Greg Costello steered home the rebound; fair reward for an honest afternoon's toil in his old central midfield position.
That was pretty much that, a triple substitution galvanising Rovers' into a late flurry which yielded only one snap shot by Terry Eviston. Richardson rightly applauded both teams for the quality of their football on the sponge-like surface and Rovers for coming at SheIs "like a whirl-wind," though he didn't sound entirely convincing when claiming: "We were worth the win, just about."