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Ben Brady/INPHO Richie Towell scored Rovers' second in Tallaght.
# mind the gap
Shamrock Rovers go seven points clear with convincing win over Dundalk
Aaron Greene, Richie Towell and Rory Gaffney gave the Hoops a 3-0 win at Tallaght Stadium.

Shamrock Rovers 3-0 Dundalk

Darryl Geraghty reports from Tallaght Stadium

SHAMROCK ROVERS TOOK a massive step towards retaining their Premier Division title as they extended their lead at the top to seven points with a top-class counter-attacking performance against their nearest challengers.

With the insurance of a game in hand and despite the Thursday night humbling away at Ferencvaros, Hoops boss Stephen Bradly surprisingly opted for just the two changes to the side that went down 4-0 in Hungary, but it was his side who came flying out of the blocks from the first whistle showing no signs of a European hangover.

After just a minute played, Lee Grace stepped forward in possession and clipped a delightful ball onto the chest of skipper Ronan Finn, who had beaten the offside trap, but failed to hit the target with his left-footed strike.

Following the huge let-off, the visitors, unbeaten in their last five and who having had nine days to prepare, went straight down the other end and were unlucky to see John Martin’s guided header from a floated Alfie Lewis cross sail just wide of Alan Mannus’s post.

Moments later there was mass confusion around the ground in a pretty bizarre situation. Sean Hoare, previously of Dundalk, played a firm square ball across the backline that ricocheted off Dundalk front man Martin. The ball then sailed back towards the Dundalk goal. Aaron Greene, who — if the pass was made by a Rovers player — would have been miles offside, was disgusted to see the flag raised seeing as it wasn’t played forward by any of his teammates.

Dundalk did well in possession to force the hosts back into their own final third, but their hard work was undone as the Hoops struck on the counter to take the lead, all started by another ex-Dundalk man.

Dan Cleary’s long clearance down the line found its way to Rory Gaffney and the in-form striker showed incredible pace to burst past Robbie McCourt, in for his first start for his new club. Gaffney headed straight for goal and as he entered the area with the goal at his mercy, showed tremendous composure to unselfishly square the ball to strike partner Greene who did the rest.

Having lost centre back McCourt to injury, Stephen O’Donnell was forced into a big reshuffle with captain Robbie Benson forced to go in at left back and Darragh Leahy cover at centre back.

That sense of deflation, having gone a goal down and forced into an early change, turned into devastation for the away fans. Firstly, Martin’s goal was disallowed for a clip on recovering Cleary and the Hoops then doubled their lead from the resulting free kick.

In almost a carbon copy to the first goal, Cleary played a long ball over the top towards the left wing for Greene who then turned provider, drilling a low cross to Richie Towell to tap home.

The Lilywhites refused to let their heads drop and had a number of decent chances to reduce the deficit. Greg Slogget shot straight at Mannus from the edge of the area, before some last ditch defending from the Rovers rearguard blocked efforts from Martin and Lewis from inside the area.

For a top of the table clash, neither side were sitting back and both had chances to add to the scoreline. The lively Steven Bradley dragged a low strike inches wide of the target, before Gaffney teed up Gary O’Neill, who should have done better from inside the area, but shot straight at Nathan Sheppard from close range.

Just after the hour mark, Keith Ward thought he had gotten one back for his side as his curling free kick from 25 yards beat the wall and looked to be heading in, only to be clawed out of the top corner at the last second by the fully outstretched Mannus.

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Minutes later Rovers secured all three points, with a goal incredibly similar to the first two. It was yet another counter-attack down the left to release Greene to return the favour to his strike partner Gaffeny who got the goal his overall play deserved.

Mannus’s shift wasn’t done just yet as he was forced into yet another top class save to deny a Benson thunderbolt from just left of the area that was creeping in at the far post, before standing up well to another powerful hit from Ward.

Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus, Ronan Finn (Neil Farrugia, 59’), Sean Hoare, Lee
Grace, Daniel Cleary (Justin Ferizaj, 79’), Andy Lyons, Dylan Watts (Jack Byrne, 68’), Gary O’Neill, Richie Towell, Aaron Greene (Sean Kavanagh, 68’), Rory Gaffney (Aidomo Emakhu, 68’).

Dundalk FC: Nathan Shepperd, Lewis Macari, Sam Bone, Robbie McCourt (Keith Ward, 27’), Darragh Leahy (John Mountney, 73’), Alfie Lewis, Greg Sloggett (Joe Adams, 64’), Robbie Benson, Ryan O’Kane (Runar Hauge, 45’), Steven Bradley, John Martin (David McMillan, 64’).

Referee: Rob Harvey

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