Chambers penalty gives O'Neill boost
MANAGER Michael O'Neill insisted that things can only get better for Shamrock Rovers after James Chambers rescued a point for the Hoops by converting an 87th-minute penalty at Morton Stadium yesterday.
Rovers are now unbeaten in their last three games, but all is not so rosy in the camp. They have conceded six goals and scored just three -- two of which have come from the penalty spot and the other from a set-piece.
And, while yesterday's performance was a little more encouraging, last season's runners-up are still looking well short of title contenders.
But O'Neill waved away any suggestion of doom and gloom in the camp and pointed to the imminent return to training of strikers Gary Twigg and Dessie Baker as evidence that the worst is behind them.
"We have had a couple of poor performances but the reaction has been completely over the top. People have been talking as if we've committed some dastardly crime in that period. True, we've had two home defeats, but we'll get over that. We've been good away from home.
"We're not creating a lot of chances -- that's pretty evident. But we've six players out and at this moment in time we're just missing that killer instinct. Tommy Stewart came in today, I thought he was excellent. One by one, we'll start to get the bodies back and we'll be stronger for that," added O'Neill.
Stewart impressed up front but it was the support provided by Chambers, who was deployed in an attacking midfield role, having played right- back against UCD last Friday, which gave them an edge that they have been sorely lacking.
The strong breeze put paid to any chances of good football being provided for the 1,444-strong crowd and it came as no surprise that the weather played a crucial part in the opening goal on 78 minutes.
Shaun Williams raided down the left flank and, just as he looked to have picked out Gary O'Neill with a pass across the 18-yard line, the breeze nudged the ball right into the path of Conan Byrne, who danced through the Rovers defence with consummate ease before slamming the ball past 'keeper Alan Mannus.
"It was a poor goal to give away," conceded O'Neill afterwards. "We had maybe two or three opportunities to clear it."
Rovers showed impressive fighting spirit to earn a draw courtesy of Chambers' excellently dispatched penalty, which rattled an upright on the way in after his free-kick had been handled by O'Neill.
That sparked an exciting finale as Rovers surged forward, ultimately in vein, for a winner.
SPORTING FINGAL -- Clarke, O'Brien, Browne, Maher, Frost (Quinn 10); Williams, Finn, McFaul; Byrne, Zayed, O'Neill.
SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Mannus, Sives, Murray, Price, Murphy (Barrett 83); Cahill, Chambers, Bayly (Rice 70), O'Connor (Dennehy 70); Turner, Stewart.
REF -- A Buttimer (Cork).