Cork City slip from the summit as Rovers bounce back

Stephen Bradley’s side deserving winners over the champions after tough few weeks

Shamrock Rovers’ Ethan Boyle scores their second goal of the game past Mark McNulty of Cork City. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Shamrock Rovers’ Ethan Boyle scores their second goal of the game past Mark McNulty of Cork City. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Shamrock Rovers 3 Cork City 0

It seemed strange to think of Stephen Kenny’s suggestion that Cork City had aspired to little more than stopping his side from playing in Turner’s Cross on Friday. Three days on and the champions seemed utterly incapable of even hindering Shamrock Rovers when they got going and the hosts put an end to their wretched recent run of results with a memorable win.

There must have been a good deal here of how Stephen Bradley has been wanting this Rovers team to play for a very long time although, without trying to take anything away from the quality of the home side’s performance, City could barely be said to have turned up.

After the intensity of their second-half performance on Friday, they were completely flat throughout and though they might point to the couple of remarkable first-half saves Kevin Horgan had to make to prevent them scoring, a point would have flattered them with Bradley’s side much the better of the two until the stage when it really didn’t make any difference anymore.

From the moment Roberto Lopes got his tap in just over an hour in, the only real question was whether the champions would really suffer a three-goal defeat for the first time in almost two years.

Having earned so much praise on their last outing, the young back four was brought back to earth with a bit of a thud. There was, to be fair, nothing much anyone could have done to prevent the Dublin side’s first goal just three minutes in; Graham Burke has a knack for getting slightly special ones and this, straight to the top corner from 25 yards, was right up there.

City’s slow start continued and when Rovers got a second thanks to Ethan Boyle touch from a tight angle after a Burke corner, the champions looked a little shell-shocked.

John Caulfield’s two changes to the side that beat Dundalk in Turner’s Cross certainly can’t have had the desired effect and the Cork City boss opted to make another two at the break as the need grew to inject a bit of urgency into a side that seemed to be collectively chasing shadows.

But Rovers were composed at the back and tidy as they worked their way forward with a much changed formation giving the side plenty of width courtesy of wing-backs Boyle and Seán Kavanagh while Aaron Bolger was given a lot of licence to push forward from a deep-lying position in midfield in order to join Burke and Ronan Finn behind the sole striker.

Gary Shaw didn’t trouble Mark McNulty much but Burke was back to his best and might easily have had another with the City goalkeeper, most memorably, getting a hand to his driven second-half free from just outside the area.

By then Caulfield had replaced his holding midfielders and reshaped his team in a vain effort to salvage something from the night. Kieran Sadlier went close to getting to goal that would have meant the defeat matched the one they suffered here last September but Horgan got to watch the ball fly just the far side of the angle.

The young goalkeeper deserved the second straight clean sheet for those first-half saves, the first from Garry Buckley, the second from Barry McNamee. Both were fired low from very close range but somehow Horgan got down to his right on each occasion and Buckley, in particular, looked as though he didn’t entirely understand how as he walked away.

Perhaps Alan Mannus will not be waltzing back into this team when he arrives after all.

City periodically displayed the same sort of sense of general bewilderment as the night wore on. The home support can hardly have been much more surprised, though. Their team playing with confidence and composure to comprehensively beat the league’s top side? There might be life in this project thing yet.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Horgan; O’Brien, Lopes, Grace; Boyle, A Bolger, G Bolger, Kavanagh; Finn (Miele, 81 mins), Burke (McAllister, 74 mins); Shaw.

CORK CITY: McNulty; Horgan, McCarthy, McLoughlin, Kane (Keohane, half-time); Morrissey (O’Hanlon, 67 mins), McCormack (Shepard, half-time); McNamee, Buckley, Sadlier; Cummins.

Referee: R Rogers (Dublin).

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