Rónán MacNamara reports from Richmond Park
Shamrock Rovers remain top of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division after Danny Mandroiu’s stoppage time winner gave the champions a 2-1 win over St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park.
The victory sees Rovers extend their lead at the top of the league to five points and stretch their record breaking unbeaten run to 32 games, as the Athletic lost their first game of the season.
Graham Burke’s left footed strike cancelled out Chris Forrester’s early opener to send both sides into the half time interval on level terms.
The hosts pressed Rovers early on and their intensity and pressure paid off when John Mountney’s cross found Forrester via a sliced clearance off Lee Grace. The midfielder made no mistake as he cushioned a half volley past Alan Mannus to give the Saints the lead after just four minutes.
Pats almost made it two but Lee Grace was on hand to clear Ian Bermingham’s goal bound cross cut shot.
Rovers took a while to settle into the game and their first chance came the way of Rory Gaffney who was found brilliantly by Gary O’Neill’s defence splitting pass. The former Salford striker scuffed his finish and Viteszlav Jaros saved easily with his feet.
The game was played at a high intensity with the cut and thrust of a derby game with tackles flying in and emotions running high on the sideline.
Jamie Lennon was booked after an altercation with Liam Scales which Stephen O’Donnell labelled “the worst decision I have ever seen.”
That seemed to spur Rovers into life as they dominated the final ten minutes of the opening half.
The Saints ‘keeper had a couple of hairy moments as he spilled Mandroiu’s inswinging cross but gathered at the feet of Scales and Ronan Finn.
Jaros again had to redeem himself after spilling a routine shot from the edge of the box as he reacted smartly to deny Gaffney from point blank range.
Pats were not able to sustain their intensity for the whole half and it showed as Watts passed to Burke who was invited to shoot on his left foot from 25 yards. He duly obliged as he found the bottom corner for his fourth goal of the season, beating Jaros at his near post who will feel disappointed with his efforts.
Rovers continued their dominance as Burke had a goalbound effort cleared for a corner before Mandroiu’s speculative effort was tipped over by Jaros.
Tempers flared on the sidelines as O’Donnell and Glen Cronin were cautioned by referee Derek Tomney just before the interval.
The home side had the first shot in anger of the second half as Billy King’s left footed effort was straight down the throat of Mannus who made his 75th consecutive league appearance between the sticks for Rovers.
King threatened again as he went on a good run but his shot was deflected over the bar.
Gaffney thought he had put the champions in front when he bundled Finn’s cross home in the 66th minute but his joy was short lived when the linesman raised his offside flag.
Matty Smith who looked lively throughout, scuffed an effort under pressure when he got in behind the Rovers defence as the game approached the last 15 minutes.
Jaros produced a fine save to deny Mandroiu who’s dipping free kick from 25 yards was hit with venom. Substitute Roberto Lopes should have put Rovers ahead from the resulting corner but his free header from eight yards went over the bar.
Mannus pulled off a fine reaction save from close range to deny Matty Smith who slid in to divert Forrester’s intelligent header towards goal.
Four minutes were added on at the end of the half and Mandroiu pressed high and won the ball from Lee Desmond who let Lee Grace’s long ball bounce away from him. Mandroiu stormed through and slotted calmly from a tight angle past Jaros under pressure from the stricken Desmond and send the Rovers bench into raptures.
A champions victory for Rovers who showed great belief to score yet another late winner despite not being at their free flowing best.
St. Patrick's Athletic: Vitezslav Jaros; Lee Desmond, Sam Bone, Ian Bermingham (c) (Shane Griffin 46); Jamie Lennon, Billy King, Chris Forrester, Alfie Lewis (Jason McClelland 69), John Mountney; Rónán Coughlan, Matty Smith.
Subs not used: Barry Murphy, Josh Keeley, Kian Corbally, Nahum Melvin-Lambert, Daniel Norris.
Booked: Jamie Lennon (35), Stephen O'Donnell (45), Matty Smith (86).
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Hoare, Lee Grace, Joey O'Brien (Roberto Lopes 49); Ronan Finn (c) (Chris McCann 69), Gary O'Neill, Liam Scales, Dylan Watts; Daniel Mandroiu, Rory Gaffney (Dean Williams 88), Graham Burke (Sean Gannon 69).
Subs not used: Leon Pohls, Aidomo Emakhu, Max Murphy, Darragh Nugent, Adam Wells.
Booked: Liam Scales (35) Graham Burke (42).
Referee: Derek Tomney
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: Danny Mandroiu (Shamrock Rovers)