Macdara Ferris reports from Tallaght Stadium
The Hoops moved five points clear of Bohemians at the top of table in Tallaght on Friday night after a scoreless draw against Shelbourne in the first Dublin derby in the league between the sides in seven seasons.
If Shamrock Rovers are to win their first league title since 2011, they are going to have to find a way to break down teams that are quite happy to come to Tallaght and seek to frustrate the Hoops with a blanket defence.
Ian Morris had his team well drilled for this game against the league leaders and when the opportunity arose they did cause Alan Mannus some difficulty even if they couldn’t beat the Hoops goalkeeper.
Rovers had good practice for how the game would go having played against a packed St. Patrick’s Athletic in a scoreless draw last week. On this occasion Shels similarly set up with a deep lying defence and left it up to Stephen Bradley’s men to try and break them down.
In the first half for nearly 40 minutes it was pretty much one way traffic only for the Hoops to cough up three clear cut chances that Shelbourne really should have done better with right at the end of the first half.
Colin McCabe was called into action as early as the fourth minute as the Shels ‘keeper batted away a driven Graham Burke effort.
Rovers captain Ronan Finn was an isolated figure as right wing back with most of the Hoops play coming down the opposite flank through Neil Farrugia. The Hoops forced a series of first half corners – seven in total – that Jack Byrne drew in on top of the Shels defence. On a couple of occasion those corners came from some well-timed tackles in the box by Dan Byrne.
Burke forced another save from McCabe midway through the half and Aaron McEneff let fly from distance twice without troubling the ‘keeper.
The Hoops didn’t just resort to shots from distance though as Farrugia and Byrne both ran at the Shels defence who needed to be careful not to leave a boot hanging for either player to fall over during mazy dribbles in the box.
Probably the closest Rovers came to a first half opener came from a Byrne cross that was flicked on by Aaron Greene to Pico Lopes on the half hour.
It was all going one way until an uncharacteristic error by Alan Mannus on 37 minutes as Ian Morris’ men looked to get a foothold in the game.. He dropped a high ball under a little bit of pressure but Dayle Rooney shot over with the goal at his mercy and a couple of teammates screaming for the ball on the edge of the six yard box.
Moments later a Rooney centre whizzed across the Rovers six yard box with Mannus flicking his fingers on it to send it on its way. In first half injury time former Hoop Ciarán Kilduff got a shot away but could only drill it straight at Mannus.
It was more of the same in the second half but with less penetration from Rovers. Shels substitute Jaze Kabia showed a clean pair of heels to race in on Rovers’ goal but he couldn’t keep his shot on target. At the other end Rovers went close when Greene spun in the box and his shot was saved by McCabe.
Having made four substitutions during three phases of play the new rules meant when Gaffney went down injured the Hoops had to play the final ten minutes with just the ten men and with that went Rovers hopes of all three points ahead of their European game next Thursday.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien (Rory Gaffney 65), Roberto Lopes, Liam Scales; Ronan Finn © (Rhys Marshall 59), Gary O’Neill, Jack Byrne, Aaron McEneff, Graham Burke (Dylan Watts 74), Neil Farrugia (Dean Williams 74); Aaron Greene.
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Lee Grace, Daniel Lafferty.
Booked: Roberto Lopes (74).
Shelbourne: Colin McCabe; George Poynton, Daniel Byrne, Luke Byrne, Alex O'Hanlon; Shane Farrell (Jaze Kabia 64), Gary Deegan ©, Ryan Brennan (Mark Byrne 83), Sean Quinn, Dayle Rooney; Ciarán Kilduff (Aaron Dobbs 83).
Subs not used: Jack Brady, Aidan Friel, Daniel O'Reilly, Denzil Fernandes.
Booked: George Poynton (41), Ciarán Kilduff (46), Ryan Brennan (59), Jaze Kabia (85), Mark Byrne (90+3).
Referee: Rob Harvey
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: George Poynton (Shelbourne).