Macdara Ferris reports from Tallaght Stadium
The 3-1 win for Shamrock Rovers over St. Patrick’s Athletic on Friday night sent the Hoops three points clear of the Saints at the top of the table. Dylan Watts played a central role creating all three goals for his team.
Last season Watts was the only out-field player to play in each competitive game but an injury last May saw his run of playing in 36 matches in a row come to an end.
He missed seven matches during which times Rovers’ record unbeaten run was ended and the Hoops earned just eight points from the 21 available as they dealt with an injury crisis in their squad.
The 24-year-old midfielder’s return to the pitch has coincided with a return to form for Rovers.
He has been involved in the last five games during which time Rovers lost 2-0 away to Slovan Bratislava but won the next four on the bounce. He was on the scoresheet in last week’s 2-0 FAI Cup win over Galway United and brought his tally of assists in the league to nine for the season.
The Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley was singing the midfielders’ praises after the 3-1 win over the Athletic.
“His talent is there for all to see,” said Bradley when speaking to SRFCTV after the game. “You can see that in how he plays, how he respects the game. He is so mature now. He is a team player. He works for the team and his quality takes over. He was the best player on the pitch.”
Watts’ corner kick on the hour mark set up Pico Lopes to head home his first of the season and Bradley was relieved to see his team score off a set piece.
“We should have scored more from set plays this year. We usually do. The delivery is very good and we have some big men in there with Joey (O'Brien), Liam (Scales), Lee (Grace), Pico (Lopes), Sean (Hoare) and Rory (Gaffney) so we should be scoring goals from set plays and thankfully we tonight we did.”
Bradley had to leave his top scorer Graham Burke out of the match day squad due to injury. Burke, who has scored eight in the league in 2021, watched on from the stands as Danny Mandroiu provided two of the crucial goals in the 3-1 win bringing Mandroiu’s own goal tally in the league to six.
“Danny was very good,” said Bradley who he deployed him alongside Richie Towell just behind Rory Gaffney up top. “He played a different position tonight. He is tactically really clever and you could see that in how quickly he adapted to it.”
Rovers had needed late goals to claim a draw and a win over St. Patrick’s Athletic earlier in the season but the Hoops were well worth their win on Friday and that might be ominous for their title rivals.
“We knew Pat’s were going to come and press us high and we knew we'd have to take the energy out of them and we did that really well. We moved the ball really well. In the second half we were ruthless and were clinical in the final third.
"Overall it was a really good performance. It is an important time of the season. The players have kicked on - I've said it a number of times that we are stronger in the second part of the season and I think we are seeing that now.”
It means the Hoops will go into their UEFA Europa Conference League third round qualifier against Albanian side Teuta full of confidence. The first leg will be played in Tallaght Stadium next Thursday with the Hoops having made 1,350 tickets available to their club members and season ticket holders.
“It is a really big game for the club and one we are really looking forward to. It is going to be a tough. We have watched a lot of their games and they are a good side technically.
"We know it is going to be a tough two legs but we know if we play to our levels as we've done in the last six weeks, we are more than a match to anyone.”
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