Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO Rovers players celebrate.
# title race
Shamrock Rovers on brink of Premier Division title after another perfect storm
St Patrick’s Athletic took an early lead before the Hoops cruised to a 4-1 win in front of 7,469 supporters at Tallaght Stadium.

Shamrock Rovers 4

St Patrick’s Athletic 1

THIS FELT LIKE the perfect storm before a calm title procession for Shamrock Rovers.

A thrilling 4-1 win over St Patrick’s Athletic, in which they fell behind after just four minutes, combined with Derry City’s draw at home to Shelbourne, means the Hoops are on the brink of a third Premier Division crown in-a-row.

It may even be confirmed before they have to kick a ball again – against the Candystripes here at Tallaght Stadium next Sunday, no less – should the challengers falter against Sligo Rovers on Monday.

But it’s only ever been about taking care of their own business for Stephen Bradley’s men, and when Serge Atakayi pounced at the back post they were faced with another uphill battle to maintain their unbeaten home league record.

It was one they met head on and, unlike the injury-time dramatics that were required to take three points against Shels recently, this victory was wrapped up within five minutes of the second half.

Not that it was without drama.

Two Graham Burke penalties either side of the interval, one controversial Dan Cleary strike, a missed Pat’s spot kick when the score was 3-1 and a red card for Anto Breslin’s bizarre handball on the line shortly afterwards is a brief summation of a frenetic night in front of 7,469.

It was the 1,100 travelling fans who were celebrating with abandon soon after kick-off, Sam Curtis first-time cross from the right catching Sean Hoare cold with a fresh air kick, allowing Atakayi tap in at the back.

Pat’s had their own carrot to play for, still in a battle with Dundalk for a third-place finish to guarantee European qualification for Tim Clancy’s side.

Their boss had to watch from the stands after picking up a touchline ban but they still played with a purpose in the opening exchanges.

Rovers, though, gradually took control of possession and began to work openings.

It was nothing spectacular but clinical in its almost monotonous nature. They got down the right with Richie Towell on 19 minutes and Danny Rogers was forced to tip his cross over the bar.

On the half-hour from that same side, Jack Byrne and Ronan Finn combined with the latter delivering a cross which Burke really should have at least hit the target with.

But then the equaliser arrived, Pat’s captain Joe Redmond clumsily fouling Burke after he was slipped through down the left by Andy Lyons with a neat pass from Roberto Lopes’ precise long-range diagonal.

Contact didn’t have to be considerable for the award to be warranted and Burke picked himself up to fire low and hard to Rogers’ left.

That was the 36th minute and by the time the half edged into injury time, the champions were in the lead and nearing title number three in-a-row.

But not without justifiable protests from the away side.

Considering the nature of the infringement which led to the award of the spot kick, referee Rob Hennessy and his assistant on the far side missed Burke pushing Forrester in the back just as the midfielder was set to clear the ball which Cleary then rifled through Rogers’ legs having seen his initial header saved.

It led to a manic few minutes in which the Saints goalkeeper and striker Eoin Doyle were booked for the manner of their complaints, while down the other end of the pitch Adam O’Reilly was cautioned for a lunge that Lyons jumped to avoid.

Those flashpoints kept the atmosphere of this Dublin derby simmering during the break and within seconds of the restart, Pat’s should have been level.

chris-forrester-with-rob-hennessy Ryan Byrne / INPHO Chris Forrester protests the award of the first Rovers penalty. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Once again, Atakayi was the player with the chance, striding onto Forrester’s cross from the right but blazing over his shot from a central area on the edge of the area.

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Rovers were forced into an early change when Byrne had to be withdrawn for Dylan Watts and it was the replacement’s corner kick that led to the all-important third in the 54th.

His initial delivery was cleared to the edge of the area, where McCann’s shot fell to Roberto Lopes, whose blocked attempt dropped to defender Sean Hoare who blasted home from close range.

The Rovers players piled on their teammate in celebration and it was soon goalkeeper Alan Mannus earning their hugs when he guessed right to save substitute Tundi Owloabi’s tame 69th-minute spot kick.

The award seemed debatable again, Hennessy adjudging McCann handled in the box from a well-worked Pat’s free.

It was a reminder of the kind of madness that can engulf these fixtures at this stage but a comedy handball on the line from Breslin, completely misjudging a headed clearance and resulting in a straight red, ensured Burke could rifle his second penalty of the night into the top right corner.

It allowed everyone of a green and white persuasion to enjoy the final 16 minutes.

They did so even more when the final whistle blew in Derry, the final sight of the night Rovers boss Stephen Bradley skipping down the touchline as fans sang, ‘We’re gonna win the league.’

Nights like this have them on the brink of glory again.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus; Cleary, Lopes, Hoare; Finn (c) (Farrugia 62), Towell, McCann (Kavanagh 76), Burke (Power 76), Lyons (Gannon 76); Byrne (Watts 50); Gaffney

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Rogers; S Curtis, Redmond (c), Barrett, Breslin; Timmermans (King 64), Forrester, O’Reilly; M Doyle (Brockbank 78), Atakayi (Lipsiuc 78); E Doyle (Owlabi 60).

Referee: R Hennessy.

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