Clarke proves worth as Hoops survive late scare
Shamrock Rovers 2 Bohemians 1
For the second week in a row, late drama almost affected the outcome of a Shamrock Rovers game. This time around, the Hoops were on the right side of the equation.
Stephen Bradley's charges took the spoils from a typically feisty battle with arch rivals Bohemians and they earned them on the balance of play.
But they had to survive a late wobble at Tallaght with an injury-time penalty from Bohs and a vain shout for another one adding suspense to an encounter that looked to be petering towards a routine success for Rovers.
They still have rough edges to iron out, but they responded well to an opening defeat in Dundalk with youthful members of Bradley's dressing room coming to the fore for the big occasion.
Left-back Trevor Clarke scooped the man of the match honours although his manager described the 18-year-old's first-half performance as "terrible" - a statement which shows the high standards that he has set for a player that he expects to be on the radar of English clubs.
It ties in with the overall sense that Rovers have work to do, yet this was a step in the right direction. Winning has to become a habit, especially in this type of encounter.
This game only went ahead after a pair of pitch inspections and Bradley had feared it would be called off with the area around the centre circle particularly boggy. "When the ref said it was on I just said, 'Right, we have to get the win here even if it's not going to be pretty'."
And so it proved with fluid football in short supply before the interval with the 5,220 in attendance energised only by meaty challenges.
Rovers did shade proceedings without dominating as Bohs worked hard to restrict them space..
Clarke was at the heart of their better attacking moments, drilling two opportunities wide of the post, but Bradley was unimpressed.
"In the first half he was terrible," said the rookie boss. "But in the second half he was unbelievable. He can make a real career for himself and that's why I'm so hard on him. In the first half he was sloppy in his defending and sloppy in his play but in the second half he was much more aggressive."
And so were Rovers as they operated at a higher tempo. They were helped by Bohs supremo Keith Long being forced into a half-time reshuffle with injured centre-half Dan Byrne and striker Dinny Corcoran replaced by Stephen Best and Dean Casey.
Rovers started to get some joy down the right and had already wasted two chances when they broke the deadlock from that avenue. Simon Madden sent in a cross that was misjudged by Best and found Brandon Miele who stepped inside Derek Pender and finished clinically.
That drew a response from the visitors with new Hoops stopper Tomer Chencinski alert to push away a close-range effort from Casey and Ian Morris then headed a Lorcan Fitzgerald corner against the post.
Bradley responded to the difficult period by working his bench and his switches were vindicated when a pair of teenage subs played starring roles in the insurance goal.
Clarke started a classic counter attack and Miele's replacement James Doona, a youngster who broke through last year, released Ryan Connolly inside the area with the experienced ex-Galway man calmly squaring for the fresh Michael O'Connor who did the rest via the crossbar.
That looked to be game over with the wind taken from Bohs' sails and it could have got worse with Fitzgerald clearing a deft O'Connor flick off the line.
Bradley then introduced Roberto Lopes, the winter capture from Bohs, to rub salt in the wounds by demonstrating that the Dublin 24 outfit can afford to bench one of Long's key men in recent seasons.
He was subjected to jeers from the away end as he slotted into a defensive role that was stiffened by an injury to centre-half Daniel Devine which meant he spent the dying minutes hobbling around up front because Rovers had used all of their subs.
However, Devine got himself into trouble when he came back to defend a set-piece with ref Rob Harvey punishing the ex-Aston Villa trainee for an off-the-ball squabble with Best and pointing to the spot. George Poynton converted. Bohs pushed again and frantically appealed when a corner struck the arm of Lopes who knew nothing about it.
Harvey's full-time whistle prompted a mini-melee that quickly died down.
The final push might give Bohs followers some cheer, but a challenging campaign lies ahead, while Rovers have more reasons to be optimistic.
SHAMROCK ROVERS - Chencinski, Madden, Devine, Webster, Clarke; McAllister, Finn; Meenan, Connolly (Lopes 75), Miele (Doona 68); Boyd (O'Connor 65)
BOHEMIANS - Supple, Pender, Cornwall, Byrne (Best 45), Fitzgerald; Morris; Kavanagh, Gannon, Poynton, Doyle (Simon 84); Corcoran (Casey 45)
Ref - R Harvey (Dublin)