Belhout brings Hoops to earth
THIS wasn't in the script. Shamrock Rovers were comfortably en route to the quarter-finals, cruising to victory against a UCD team they had scored 15 goals against in their previous three games... when they were brought crashing back to earth.
Two goals weren't enough last night as substitute Samir Belhout's pace saved the day for UCD. The striker pulled one back before forcing Pat Flynn into a clumsy last-man foul. The Hoops centre-half saw red and Robbie Creevy equalised within a minute. Welcome home.
This was as far from Belgrade as you could get and now Michael O'Neill has the added burden of a replay -- expected next Monday at Belfield -- in an already crowded fixture list.
The prize of an away quarter-final against the winners of Monaghan's replay with Sligo awaited them, and the Hooped faithful were dreaming of revenge against either the team that beat them in last year's final or old boss Roddy Collins. That will have to wait.
Ciaran Kilduff and Robbie Benson had chances at either end during a tepid first half, but it was on the resumption that the action warmed up.
UCD nearly took the lead just after the break when Sean Harding's shot spun off Craig Sives and flew inches wide, but Karl Sheppard's well-hit shot stung Barron's hands at the other end, before the UCD 'keeper was alert to substitute Ronan Finn's effort.
Karl Sheppard made no mistake at the end of a fine move that saw Finn play the former Galway man in and his finish gave Barron no chance.
Former UCD man Kilduff doubled the lead with a powerful header from a superb Pat Sullivan delivery.
The job looked done, but Belhout had other ideas as he latched on to Darren Meenan's through-ball and clinically beat Ryan Thompson.
And then the script was ripped up. Belhout robbed Craig Sives and Flynn bundled him over. He saw red and almost instantly Martin Russell's men equalised as Creevy's firm header gave Thompson no chance.
Rovers were stunned. Dan Murray came on to shore up the defence. Even still, Kilduff fed Finn and his shot flew narrowly over before Stephen Rice had an effort cleared off the line by Creevy. Tom Connolly's whistle brought Rovers back to reality with a bang.
After the game, O'Neill denied reports that the club are in negotiations over the transfer to Aston Villa of left-back Enda Stevens, who didn't play last night.
SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Thompson; Sullivan, Flynn, Sives, Memery; McCabe (Finn 56), Rice, O'Donnell; Sheppard (Murray 82), O'Neill (Turner 68), Kilduff.
UCD -- Barron; Harding, O'Connor, Leahy, Ledwith; O'Conor, Corry (Belhout 71), Creevy, Benson (Marshall 56), Meenan; Rusk.
REF -- T Connolly (Dublin).