Shelbourne forgo flair to grind out a win
Like the Maginot Line on legs, Waterford United came to Tolka Park yesterday looking to add something to the spoils of their recent encounters with other high fliers.
They took four points from the games against Cork City and St Patrick's Athletic, but having battled hard for another yesterday their luck ran out 18 minutes from time when Pat Scully's diving header from six yards ended what has been a shaky holiday period for the league leaders on something approaching a high note.
For the second week in succession Dermot Keely's men found themselves in the awkward position of attempting to break down 10 men who showed little appetite for coming out to play. This time they stuck to their task, created far more chances than they managed against Drogheda last week and got what they deserved.
Keely himself made it clear that, against teams hell-bent on survival at all costs, the points were all that mattered. For the neutrals, though, it would be have been good to see some hard evidence that the would-be champions still remember how to win a match convincingly.
They might at least have won this one more easily had Paul Doolin's shot on the turn from 12 yards hit the net six minutes into the second half yesterday. The move started with a Dessie Baker cross from the right which the impressively solid Michael Devine managed only to punch away.
The midfielder then met the loose ball well and his shot was heading for the top corner until Alan Kirby leapt from nowhere to prevent it crossing the line with a stop that any goalkeeper would have been proud of. Kirby, though, was shown a red card for his trouble and after Stephen Geoghegan had struck the post with the penalty the incident stood out as a prime example of why referees should simply be obliged to give the goal rather than the spot kick in such circumstances.
Well, that's the way it probably stood out for everybody aside from United manager Mike Flanagan. The Englishman had the admirable cheek to suggest that neither the referee nor the linesman could have seen Kirby handle and so no action should have been taken.
"I'm very annoyed with him for giving the penalty and sending our man off," Flanagan said, with a certain panache. He was probably fortunate that his side had lost, for had his intervention cost the home side a couple of points the comments were the sort that might have sparked a minor riot in the Drumcondra area last night.
Apart from the excitement of Shelbourne's increasingly desperate attempts to break down their visitors, the game had little enough to recommend it.
The Dubliners were the better throughout but United are well organised, work hard for each other and generally look a far more accomplished unit than they did last year. Their lack of ambition, though . . . well, who could blame them on a day trip to Tolka.
With Kirby gone and a good deal more space to play in, Shelbourne looked impressive at times. Their build-up play is often outstanding and they have half a dozen players in the side who should be capable of finding the net for them.
Even with Stephen Geoghegan back yesterday, though, they rarely required Devine to be much more than reliable, and while Keely insists that things will actually be easier in the weeks ahead against the likes of Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians, teams that come out to win games, it would be nice to think that they'll have to be more demanding if they are to turn their current advantage into a National League title.
Shelbourne: Williams; Heary, Scully, McCarthy, D Geoghegan; R Baker, Doolin, Fenlon, Keddy; D Baker, S Geoghegan. Sub: Van der Velden for Doolin (61 mins).
Waterford United: Devine; Smith, Riordan, Whittle, T McGrath, Frost; Kirby, Reynolds, Griffin; Wood, Markey. Subs: Stirling for Frost (18 mins), D McGrath for Wood (57 mins), Grant for Whittle (74 mins).
Referee: J Feighery (Dublin).
Martin O'Neill has ruled himself out of contention for the role as Northern Ireland manager - and believes it is impossible for anyone to do the job on a part-time basis. "I have enough on my plate here at Leicester without having to also worry about what is happening at international level," the Leicester boss said.
Sammy McIlroy is now likely to be offered the Northern Ireland job.