Shelbourne labour to a disappointing draw
MORE sickly than slick, Shelbourne laboured to another disappointing Tolka,
Park draw yesterday afternoon. Riven by flu, they failed to build upon a first-half lead courtesy of a decidedly dodgy penalty and - whatever about their ills of the last fortnight on the day all the ill-fortune belonged to a vibrantly healthy Cork outfit.
Presented with an ideal opportunity to make up ground on all their rivals after the weekend's draws, Shelbourne looked increasingly anemic and sluggish. Damien Richardson's side had neither the legs nor the will to press players forward in anything like sufficient numbers, and their passing broke down in the face of Cork's resolute tackling.
Whether suffering from the virus which has swept through the club or the vocal efforts of a frustrating 90 minutes, a hoarse Richardson was utterly candid after Shelbourne took their tally of points dropped at home to 13 in ten games - hardly championship stuff.
Far from using the flu bug as an excuse, Richardson maintained that "its on occasions like this you find out what you've got." Judging by his animated 30 minute post mortem inside the home dressing-room, he didn't make a very pleasing discovery.
"For the first half-hour of the second-half, that was the worst we've played since I've come to Shelbourne. Individually and collectively we were a shambles. We allowed an honest, but a not very good side to dominate us for 25 minutes."
The character shown in a late rally was scant consolation, nor could it undo the damage that had been done before. "We could have paid a stiffer penalty." he admitted, and needless to say his Cork counterpart Rob Hindmarch, readily agreed that it was more a case of two points dropped than one gained.
Where the two men disagreed was in their opinion of the pivotal first-half penalty, which initially swung the game Shelbourne's way, and here it has to be said the Cork player-manager's viewpoint belonged to the majority.
Putting together some of their characteristic passing moves only' in fleeting moments, Shclbourne briefly combined neatly four minutes before the break. Declan Geoghegan won the ball deep in his own half, Mick Neville's long- distance radar picked out a largely off-colour Stephen Geoghegan and for once, his first-time headed lay-off found a colleague rather than no-one in particular.
The outstanding, but occasionally hot-headed Dave Hill, clearly thought the Shelbourne striker was guilty of dangerous play, though it was as much a case of him bowing too low, and when Geoghegan set off in pursuit of Mark Rutherford's return pass an irate Hill was blatantly intent on exacting revenge.
Hill may have tugged him back, but Geoghegan fended him off with exaggeration - yards from the ball, whereupon alter a long pause referee Dick O'HanIon pointed to the spot. After much verbals and some handbags at dawn, Greg Costello duly dispatched his fourth goal of the season.
Shelbourne hardly deserved it. Necessity being the mother of invention. Rutherford had been pressed into playing his first game since having his leg broken in the President's Cup final last August. He was warmly received when making his first touch after four minutes, and knew he was back when fouled by the opposing right full-back with his second touch after five minutes. Just like old times.
But, understandably, he wasn't his old self. After 25 minutes Richardson employed him alongside Geoghegan in a revised 4-4-2 formation with a jaded-looked Gary Howlett stationed wide on the left. This came after an opening 25 minutes highlighted only by Alan Gough's scampering save from Anthony Buckley's close-range downward header and a rifle-like 50 yard pass by Costello, from which Stephen Geoghegan's first touch gave him too tight an angle to beat Jody Byrne.
Cork were making regular inroads down Shelbourne's right flank through Gareth Cronin, where a vulnerable Dave Smith was rarely given much protection by the mercurial one, Anthony Sheridan - defensive tracking not being Shero's strongest asset.
The old Pat Morley-John Caulfield axis are back to something like their best and were full of running. The former fired over from a Paul Wimbleton pull-back and the latter headed over from
Morley's cross either side of the interval, before the inevitable equaliser came after 62 minutes.
With Sheridan more withdrawn, Cronin was not reaching the bye-line quite so regularly but a sweetly struck, slanting, diagonal cross picked out Caulfield and this time the Cork striker made his downward header count for his seventh league goal of the season.
Shelbourne reverted to 4-5-1 and re-jigged their forces, but with their back four lying too deep, the midfielders not pressing forward and Geoghegan unable to hold the ball up, Shelbourne couldn't put three passes together. Winning everything, and often striding forward to link Lip with the impressive Paul Wimbleton, Hill was a dominant figure.
Shelbourne were there for the taking and Cork scented the kill. Only Gough's bravery denied Morley at close-range after 70 minutes when the omnipresent Caulfield beat Neville on the touchline, and Cronin's dipping, curling 77th minute free beat the wall and Gough only to hit the angle of bar and upright.
Having looked like death warmed up, Shelbourne rallied and could have stolen the three points at the death. But Byrne came off his line to deny Stephen Geoghegan, brother Declan shot wide and Sheridan checked on to his favoured left foot and chipped wide when the initial opening cried out for a right-footed shot.
Nevertheless relieved, the off colour reds made for the sanctuary of the dressing-room. Cue the post-mortem.
Glentoran, despite living dangerously by coming from behind to win matches, have emerged as serious Irish League Premier Division title contenders.
They hauled themselves into third place on Saturday with a second big victory of the week beating Crusaders 3-1 at Seaview.
They were 1-0 down with only 14 minutes remaining, but followed on from Monday at Mourneview Park, by staging another dramatic match-winning recovery.
The Glens started the new year at Lurgan by making up a 2-0 defecit to beat Glenavon and at Seaview, provided another example of their insatiable will to win.
"I would be a lot happier if we were not falling behind in matches," said manager Tommy Cassidy, whose team is playing an exciting brand of flowing football.