Twigg and Stewart clinch title for Rovers
Bray Wanderers 2 Shamrock Rovers 2:NOT QUITE the classic Shamrock Rovers would have liked to clinch the coveted league title, but at the final whistle it would have been hard to find a member of the large away support who cared.Rovers had played a lot better than this on the way to a 16th league title but then they’d played less well, too, of late and in the end all that mattered was that goals from Gary Twigg – his 50th competitive one for the club – and Tommy Stewart claimed the point that was required from a game that provided its fair share of excitement before petering out in the closing stages.
What with the recent run of form they’d produced in the league, a little nervousness on Rovers’ part was not unexpected, but the extent to which they were outplayed by the hosts in the opening half-hour was something of a surprise.
The locals looked to have a far greater sense of purpose in the opening exchanges with every one of Pat Devlin’s players working hard to close opponents down while showing a great deal of composure on the ball.
Rovers, in contrast, seemed incapable of retaining the ball for any length of time. For a while at least the centre backs looked well on top of things and Wanderers’ early attempts on goal came from distance from Gary Dempsey and Graham Kelly.
Before long, though, the hosts were starting to display an ability to get in amongst Craig Sives and Aidan Price, neither of whom did well for the first goal with Jake Kelly racing clear to latch onto to Chris Shields’ through ball as Sives hauled down Shane O’Neill – who would have been offside if allowed the opportunity to become active. He wasn’t, though, and Kelly kept his head to lift the ball over the advancing Alan Mannus from 25 yards out.
With the word from Dalymount, where Bohemians were leading, suggesting that Rovers were suddenly in danger of losing their grip on things, the team needed to settle and start playing the sort of high-tempo football that O’Neill had suggested before the game held the key to victory.
They continued to commit too many errors in their efforts to get on top in the game, however, and things should have got an awful lot worse on the half-hour when Dempsey set Jake Kelly on his way towards goal again with a quickly taken free.
The winger finished well but the goal was disallowed for offside, a decision the televisions replays suggested was wrong.
Second goal or not, the Rovers supporters started to show some signs of agitation. Fortunately, for O’Neill and his men they came more into the game, although their equaliser four minutes before the break had a fair slice of good luck about it. With Shane O’Connor slipping badly under an innocuous-enough through ball from Sives, Twigg was quickest to react before rounding Matt Gregg and firing home from a tight angle past Adam Mitchell, who got a touch on the line but couldn’t keep the ball out.
That seemed to settle the nerves of the visitors and whatever their manager said to them at the interval seemed to complete the trick for the league leaders were in front within 15 seconds of the half-time break. Richie Baker did well to feed man-of-the-match Twigg who laid the ball off out to the right side of the area from where Stewart coolly finished.
Still Rovers couldn’t impose themselves on the contest and it was hard to imagine on the strength of the respective performances here how one side was about to claim the league title while the other was contemplating a relegation play-off next week.
The Dubliners certainly looked better after the break and there was the occasional flash of the type of football they are capable of playing, but the pace with which Wanderers broke forward never stopped causing them problems and Dempsey went very close to punishing Sives’s rather clumsy challenge on O’Neill just short of the area with a free that flew narrowly the wrong side of the left post.
However, 20 minutes from time Bray got their equaliser, with Richie Baker, on for Dempsey shortly before his brother was replaced by Neale Fenn, pushing the ball wide to Derek Doyle whose cross was turned past Mannus with a flicked header by Gary Shaw.
In a corner of the main stand the few hundred home supporters celebrated but around the rest of the ground the goal was greeted with a mixture of mild frustration and general indifference. The news from Dalymount was just about good enough.
And though there was a little nervousness whenever Bray won possession in the three minutes of injury-time, the championship was, the Rovers fans knew, finally in the bag.
BRAY WANDERERS:Gregg; Webster, O’Connor, Mitchell, Massey; Doyle, G Kelly, Dempsey (Baker, 61 mins), J Kelly (Shaw 53 mins); Shields (Tresson, 82 mins)O’Neill.
SHAMROCK ROVERS:Mannus; Flynn, Sives, Price (Murphy, 84 mins), Stevens; Dennehy, Rice, Turner, Stewart; Twigg (Chambers, 59 mins), Baker (Fenn, 67 mins).
Referee: A Kelly (Cork).