Shamrock Rovers 1 St Patrick’s Athletic 1
Stephen O'Donnell's side was the only one to get through last season unbeaten against the champions and though Rovers came away from one of those wondering just how they hadn't won, here they had to come from behind, with Aaron Greene salvaging a point for the hosts in a hectic closing spell.
The fixture has been something of a goal-free zone in recent times and was well on course to finishing scoreless again when Roberto Lopes turned what looked to be a Robbie Benson cross into his own goal with just over three minutes remaining. For two of the minutes that were left it looked as though the visitors had stolen the extra two points from a game they had been hanging on in very slightly in the preceding spell.
Greene, though, struck promptly back at the other end, rising high in the middle of the area to meet a Seán Hoare cross and getting just enough on it to guide it past Vitezslav Jaros and into the far bottom corner. ‘That’s why we’re champions’ somebody might have sung if only anyone was around at football games to sing anymore.
At the particular moment in time, it all seemed just a little harsh on St Patrick’s, who might have felt they were being rewarded for a performance that had been better in many ways than either of those produced in last year’s draws.
They had started very brightly and might even have had the lead when the hosts momentarily lost their way while trying to defend a corner. But nobody could quite capitalise on the confusion and though they retained the upper hand in midfield for a while after that, it did gradually slip and they really didn’t create all that many chances.
It was certainly the home side that had pressed harder for and gone closer to getting the opening goal in the spell immediately before it had actually arrived.
Jaros hadn't been required to do much before that although, to be fair, he did do the routine stuff rather well. But the 19-year-old was forced into a handful of decent second-half saves, the first of them from a Danny Mandroiu shot, the second from a fiercely struck Graham Burke free that he had to get down quickly to.
As Rovers chased what seemed as though it would be a winner, the game improved significantly on a first period in which the two sides had worked hard to cancel each other out. The visitors never seemed to stop believing there might be a goal there for them on the break but they managed just one shot of note on target, which Alan Mannus saved comfortably enough from Matty Smith after a break that had certainly left the locals looking stretched.
Aside from the young goalkeeper, who was helpless for the equaliser, new signing John Mountney marked his competitive debut by stopping another Mandroiu effort and Ronan Coughlan did enough at least to suggest he will continue to cause other sides in the league a fair problems.
Paddy Barrett had a lucky escape when a mishap was almost punished by Ronan Finn but Lee Desmond was outstanding.
In the end, neither side will be overly unhappy with the way things turned out but Stephen Bradley may be slightly concerned that his players again struggled slightly when it comes to turning all that possession into clearcut chances against a defence that is well organised. The champions have plenty of time to find their stride, though, and St Patrick's look like they might have a line-up that can also build on this.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus; Hoare, Lopes, O'Brien (Kavanagh, 71 mins); Gannon, McCann, Finn (Watts, 70 mins), Scales; Burke, Gaffney (Greene, 55 mins), Mandroiu.
ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC: Jaros; Mountney, Barrett (Bone, 84 mins), Desmond, Griffin; Lennon; King (McClelland, half-time), Forrester, Benson, Smith; Coughlan.
Referee: R Hennessy (Clare).