Rovers slipping down the table
SLIGO Rovers slipped seven points behind League leaders, Shamrock Rovers, when they lost to the Hoops in an absorbing encounter at rain-lashed Tallaght Stadium last Friday.
In keeping with the long-established pattern of contests between the sides, there was no shortage of controversy or drama. The only goal of a typically gritty encounter provided one of the main talking points. The Bit O'Red felt they should have had a penalty, or at the very least a free, when Jason McGuinness sent Danny North crashing to the ground inside the penalty area in the 14th minute.
But referee, Neil Dowd, waved aside the claims and the Hoops broke swiftly to fashion the match-winning move.
Ciaran Kilduff, who was a real handful for the Sligo defence all night, skipped past Evan McMillan's feeble tackle before setting up Ryan Brennan for a simple tap in at the far post.
If the Bit O'Red felt hard done by on that occasion, they certainly got the rub of the green in the 23rd minute.
A rasping shot by Ronan Finn was parried by Gary Rogers into the path of Kilduff. The 'keeper then upended the Shams striker as he closed in on the rebound and it looked a certain penalty. But, fortunately for Sligo, the referee's assistant adjudged that Kilduff was in an offside position.
Reprieved on that occasion, the visitors subsequently let Shams off the hook on several occasions as the game developed into a gripping battle for supremacy. They squandered two great chances to get on level terms before half time and missed two further clear cut opportunities in the second half. That said, Shams also had chances to put the game out of reach. Rogers was obliged to make two critical saves in the second half and Kilduff was guilty of a dreadful miss in injury time, lobbing the ball over an unguarded net.
In the end, Sligo were unlucky not to earn a share of the spoils but the reality is that their third defeat in a row leaves them playing catch-up after just four rounds of the league.
With Seamus Conneely and David Cawley handed the central midfield berths, there was a conservative look about Rovers early on. The introduction of Joe Ndo and John Russell, surprisingly omitted from the starting line-up, gave them added fluency going forward in the second half.
There was little between the sides in a tense opening but Shams gave a warning of things to come in the 10th minute when Kilduff broke from midfield before delivering an inviting cross to the far post which demanded a timely intervention from the excellent Alan Keane. The build-up to the winning goal minutes later came from the same source on the same side of the pitch so Sligo clearly didn't learn their lesson. The Bit O'Red were lucky to survive when the referee denied Shams a penalty in the 23rd minute and they seemed to grow in confidence thereafter with Kieran Djilali a growing influence.They had the Hoops defence at panic stations in the 27th minute when Djilali's inswinging corner was touched on by McMillan before McGuinness scrambled the ball to safety.
Djilali was in the thick of the action again minutes later, hammering a 20 yard free against the defensive 'wall' before blazing over on the rebound.
As Sligo continued to push forward, they created a great chance to equalise in the 38th minute.
Conneely released Aaron Greene on the left and his cross picked out Danny North six yards from goal. The striker looked certain to score with a close range header but Barry Murphy reacted brilliantly to keep the ball out of the net. Sean Maguire pounced on the rebound to set up Eric Odhiambo but he directed his shot against the bar from in front of the goal.
Murphy sustained a nasty facial injury in the incident but, thankfully, was able to play on after receiving treatment. The Hoops regained the initiative in the early stages of the second half and Rogers had to be at his best to deny Kilduff, stretching to his right to tip the striker's effort around the post in the 59th minute.
Simon Madden and Gary McCabe both went close to extending Shams lead before Rogers came to Sligo's rescue again, saving at full stretch from O'Connor. The Bit O'Red began to build up some momentum and should have equalised in the 74th minute.
Djilali began the move with an incisive run before releasing Cawley who sent in a tantalising cross from the right. North made perfect contact at the back post but his goalbound effort struck his own team mate, Jeff Henderson. Odhiambo latched on to the rebound but could only watch in despair as his shot was cleared off the line by Conor Kenna.
Rovers commitment to attack left them open on the counter-attack and they were almost caught out in injury time. Henderson's weak header allowed Kilduff in on goal but, after rounding the advancing Rogers, the Hoops striker shot high and wide.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Murphy, Madden, McGuinness, Kenna, Byrne, Brennan, Finn, Robinson, McCabe, Kilduff, O'Connor. Sub: Sheppard for O'Connor (82)
SLIGO ROVERS: Rogers, Keane, McMillan, Henderson, Greene; Djilali, Cawley, Conneely, Odhiambo, Maguire, North. Subs: Ndo for Maguire (55), Russell for Cawley (75), O'Connor for Odhiambo (85) Ref: Mr N Doyle, Dublin.