Burdon saves stifle stuttering Rovers
FOR their second game running, a rugged pitch blunted the firepower of Shamrock Rovers but their sharpness needs to be found swiftly if thoughts of reclaiming the title are deemed credible.
On the plus side, the title favourites have yet to concede a goal in their four matches. That ranks as a hollow consolation, however, when the opposite side of the ledger sees them having drawn blanks in three of those outings. And those were against teams outside of last season's top three.
Shorn of Jason McGuinness through injury and with their other off-season recruit from Sligo, Mark Quigley, only coming back from a lay-off to make his first league appearance as a substitute, the Rovers machine is struggling to spark compared to their trailblazing rivals in Sligo.
Shelbourne, in fairness, were full value for their first point of the campaign and fashioned enough openings to have claimed all three.
In the end, it was Shelbourne's rookie goalkeeper Niall Burdon who preserved a point with two saves from point-blank range just seconds apart.
Yet, if a keeper saved one team, the other almost sunk his.
Only two minutes had elapsed when Rovers stopper Barry Murphy was slow to advance towards Ken Oman's back-pass, allowing Dean Kelly nip in and dispossess the keeper. Thankfully for Murphy, his reaction was swift enough to hook the ball away from the striker's foot with his hand just as he seemed set to tap home from six yards.
Trevor Croly, the Rovers manager, was scathing in his criticism of the Dalymount Park pitch last week and, once again, felt the condition of the Tolka Park surface militated against them yesterday.
He said: "I don't want to talk about pitches but, because of it, you're taking that extra touch all the time which gives people the chance to get back at you.
"It's not an easy time of the year, that is a factor in the pitches, and you can get wrapped up in it. Let's look at the performance and see how we can make it better.
"We were just unlucky today because their keeper has made two fantastic saves near the finish."
Paris-born Burdon was certainly worthy of his man-of-the-match prize for a couple of instinctive saves seven minutes from the finish.
Firstly, he kept out Ronan Finn's close-range shot and, from the next phase of play, dived to his left to push a header by Quigley away to safety.
Earlier in the second half, just on the hour mark, more hesitancy by Burdon's opposite number Murphy almost undid Rovers. When Adam Hanlon charged down his attempted clearance, the ball broke for Philly Hughes. The Shels forward somehow lifted the ball over the bar but his blushes were spared by Alan Kelly's whistle for a handball by Hanlon.
For Reds chief Alan Mathews, the point was welcome after the two defeats. "I'm delighted that we kept a clean sheet and that we've got off the mark. It was a good performance and on another day we might have nicked it," he said.
SHELBOURNE –Burdon; Cornwall, Shortall, Ryan, Memery; Hanlon (Prizeman 82), Brennan (Leech 57), Bayly, Kelly, Hurley (Flynn 84); Hughes.
SHAMROCK ROVERS –Murphy; McCormack, Oman, Sullivan, Powell; O'Connor (Dennehy 71), Finn, Chambers, Robinson (Quigley 61), McCabe; Kilduff (Sheppard 79).
REF – A Kelly (Cork).