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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 7 March 2021

Lopes, Watts and Greene all on target as Shamrock Rovers ease past Harps to go top

It was a comfortable evening at Tallaght Stadium as the Hoops went top of the table.

Greg Bolger and Nathan Boyle in action at Tallaght Stadium on Monday.
Greg Bolger and Nathan Boyle in action at Tallaght Stadium on Monday.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Shamrock Rovers 3

Finn Harps 0

Aaron Gallagher reports from Tallaght Stadium

STEPHEN BRADLEY’S INSTRUCTIONS heading into Monday night’s clash at home to Finn Harps was, simply, to get points on the board. His players responded accordingly with a comfortable, one-sided 3-0 win which inflicts a second defeat in three visits to the capital on Finn Harps.

Roberto Lopes, Dylan Watts and Aaron Greene put the game beyond any reasonable doubt before referee Ben Connolly had even blown his whistle for half-time. It was a commanding lead which didn’t account for a penalty miss from Watts — the only blemish on a brilliant performance from the tricky playmaker, where he ran rings around anyone who tried to get near.

Harps boss Ollie Horgan repeatedly voiced his grievances in the days leading up to tonight’s game that his part-time team should not have to play five games in the space of 17 days — three of those Premier Division outings being 200km trips from Ballybofey to Dublin and back again.

Monday’s fixture was the only league match played on the night, having been rescheduled due to Tallaght Stadium hosting Uefa U17 European Championship games when Rovers and Harps were supposed to meet initially in May.

Roberto Lopes and Mikey Place Roberto Lopes opened the scoring at Tallaght Stadium for Shamrock Rovers. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

His side were without the injured pairing of Mark Timlin and Sam Todd, as well as Mark Coyle due to college exams, and made a difficult start to the game when ‘Pico’ Lopes put the hosts ahead with a clever poacher’s finish from the experienced defender.

A short corner routine from Jack Byrne saw the ball played out to the edge of the box where Aaron McEneff was on his own and free in space. The former Derry City playmaker forced an initial save Harps goalkeeper Peter Burke, but the spilled shot was gladly stabbed home by Lopes from no more than a couple of yards out to make it 1-0.

Bradley was complimentary of Harps in the build-up to Rovers’ meeting with the Donegal outfit, who were promoted from the First Division last season, acknowledging their hard-fought points at home to champions Dundalk and against St Pat’s seven days ago too.

In both those games Harps proved absolutely resolute, Horgan’s well-drilled young side more than holding their own against high-calibre opponents and looking in both encounters — at Finn Park against the Lilywhites and at Richmond Park a week ago — like snatching all three points.

But against Rovers in Tallaght the side faltered, struggling to match the intensity and hard-nosed doggedness of those impressive recent performances due to their fixture pileup and the absence of key players like Timlin, Coyle and Todd throughout the spine of the team.

Ollie Horgan Ollie Horgan was sent off in the second half for Finn Harps. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Just prior to the half hour mark Gareth Harkin was penalised for a foul on Aaron McEneff inside the box, with referee Connolly pointing to the spot. McEneff scored a cheeky, perfectly-executed panenka penalty at this ground against his old club Derry City, but this time around penalty duties were handed to Watts.

He took aim for the top corner, but his powerful driving shot flew over the top of the crossbar and into the newly-opened South Stand to the sarcastic jeers of the travelling contingent of Harps supporters standing opposite in the East Stand.

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Watts more than made amends for his miss, however. Twelve minutes later the 21-year-old former Leicester City midfielder floated unchallenged through midfield, ending his run by smacking a low shot flying into goalkeeper Burke’s bottom right corner for 2-0.

Watts almost scored his second goal in the space of three minutes straight afterwards, but watched on in amazement as Burke pulled off an outstanding save at full-stretch, a stop which he will hope makes Soccer Republic’s highlights reel despite his side’s defeat.

The game was put beyond doubt just before the break. Aaron Greene raced through on goal following a pinpoint through ball from Sean Kavanagh and rifled a powerful low shot flying into Burke’s opposite corner to make it 3-0.

Aaron Greene with Nathan Boyle and Daniel O'Reilly Aaron Greene made sure of the three points with a well-taken finish in stoppage time at the end of the first half. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Harps defender Gareth Harkin was brought off on a stretcher just before half-time and on a miserable night for Finn Harps manager Horgan was sent off by referee Connolly, watching the rest of the game sitting alongside some of the Rovers supporters.

The Hoops continued to maintain the upper hand throughout the second half, with another effort from Greene smacking the crossbar before bouncing back out having come within inches of crossing the goal-line.

Nathan Boyle and Caolan McAleer battled valiantly up top, but on a difficult night for the visitors from Donegal when possession was scant and shots at a minimum, chances were few and far between at the other end to properly test Alan Mannus in goal — as Rovers go top of the table on goal difference.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Alan Mannus; Sam Bone (Joey O’Brien 67), Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Sean Kavanagh; Greg Bolger, Jack Byrne (Orhan Vojic 67), Dylan Watts, Aaron McEneff (Brandon Kavanagh 46), Dan Carr; Aaron Greene

FINN HARPS: Peter Burke; John Kavanagh, Keith Cowan, Harry Ashcroft (Colm Deasy 69), Daniel O’Reilly; Caolan McAleer (Mark Russell 59), Gareth Harkin (Tony McNamee 45) Jacob Borg, Niall McGinley; Nathan Boyle, Mikey Place

Referee: Ben Connolly

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Aaron Gallagher

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