Byrne strike narrows gap as Hoops begin to feel pressure
Shamrock Rvs 0
A fiery night in Phibsboro, and an outcome that sets this League of Ireland campaign up for an explosive conclusion.
"Can you feel it slip away?" sang the Bohs faithful towards the Rovers masses, as injury time ticked down without a reply to Jason Byrne's early goal -- the first scored by a Gypsies player against their title rivals in 525 minutes. A conversion which could be worth so much to a club in need of a miraculous couple of weeks ahead.
The wonder of statistics is that they can be twisted around to suit any argument. Alas, after a long unbeaten run, the fact is that Michael O'Neill's side have lost three of their last four league matches. From a position of control, their lead is down to two points with three matches remaining.
Saturday's visit of Sporting Fingal will truly examine their character, although Bohs face an equally difficult assignment against St Pat's at Inchicore two hours earlier.
"We're not looking for the finishing line," said O'Neill. "We're looking to get running again."
For Bohs, nothing less than victory would do here, so it was little surprise to see them bursting out of the blocks with purpose. They performed with the intensity that brought them to successive league titles, combined with the organisation that has deserted them at times in 2010.
The visitors lined up with five in midfield, yet the combative Bohs central midfielders, Paul Keegan and Glenn Cronin, pressed and harried to good effect. "They were immense," said proud boss Pat Fenlon.
It was obvious that chances would be scarce with the stakes so high.
Crucially, when Bohs created a worthy one, they capitalised. With the Hoops on the back foot after a Bohs set-piece broke down, Cronin deftly chipped to the back post where Ken Oman was on hand to outjump Craig Sives and nod across the goalmouth, where Byrne was poised to dexterously apply the finishing touch. Game on.
Both sides came into this game with colourful injury and suspension lists and Byrne, who had started with a heavily strapped calf, was forced to leave the fray 10 minutes shy of the interval.
Gareth McGlynn, who passed a late fitness test, was causing problems, though, with a clever run brought to an abrupt end by Billy Dennehy. Ref Alan Kelly booked Enda Stevens instead.
Rovers vainly tried to gain some momentum before the interval, with an over-zealous challenge from Pat Flynn leading to another yellow and a half-time altercation between Bohs assistant Liam O'Brien and O'Neill.
"We didn't turn up in the first half," O'Neill said. The Northern Irishman withdrew Paddy Kavanagh and introduced Thomas Stewart to provide support for Gary Twigg.
Both were involved in a remarkable scramble after the restart, when a ludicrous backpass from Oman allowed Stewart to legally challenge Barry Murphy in the air. Bohs defender Mark Rossiter headed straight to the usually clinical Twigg, whose shot was cleared off the line by Brian Shelley before a follow up James Chambers effort failed to negotiate a way past Murphy.
Suddenly, the momentum was with the Tallaght men, who forged a series of corners and sent the cavalry forward. Frantic stuff. Rossiter atoned for his earlier lapse with an important interception and then Twigg was denied by his own man. Even with half an hour remaining, Bohs clearances were met with belly roars from the Jodi Stand.
But, in truth, that was the worst of the storm. O'Neill sent for Neale Fenn in search of inspiration. Naturally, it meant that Bohs had opportunities on the counter-attack and Paddy Madden could have done better on two occasions.
Dessie Baker was the final new arrival from the away bench, but Rovers were struggling to prise a way through a red-and-black rearguard fighting the urge to drop deep.
Long balls were pumped towards Murphy, the ex-Hoop, who was gathering the kind of balls he fumbled in the early part of this year.
The 25-year-old was called on only because Chris O'Connor was sent off in last Friday's draw with Bray yet, at the death, he was in the right place to collect desperate attempts from the league leaders.
"It's still theirs to lose," said Fenlon, thrilled with his team's work ethic. "But the pressure's on them now."
Bohemians -- Murphy, Rossiter, Shelley, Oman, Powell; Brennan, Keegan, Cronin, McGlynn; Cretaro (Greene 85), Byrne (Madden 34).
Shamrock Rovers -- Mannus, Flynn, Price, Sives, Stevens; Kavanagh (Stewart 45), Rice, Turner, Chambers (Fenn 68), Dennehy (Baker 79); Twigg.
REF -- Alan Kelly (Cork)