Cronin puts dent in Hoops' title hopes
TEN-man Bohemians last night collected their first league point at Tallaght Stadium in the most unlikely of circumstances and, in doing so, threw a spanner in their bitter rivals' title defence.
The Gypsies were one down when, just before half-time, Killian Brennan's free-kick came back off the post and Aidan Downes received a second yellow card for diving when the ball was put back into the box.
Both managers agreed the decision was wrong, with Rovers boss Michael O'Neill branding it "ridiculous."
It felt like game over. O'Neill withdrew Gary Twigg -- also on a yellow -- and the majority of the 4,082 crowd settled in for a second-half show.
But Pat Fenlon hadn't read the script. He lost Brennan to injury at the break, but his replacement Stephen Hurley and fellow sub Stephen Traynor continued to take the game to their hosts.
They got their reward when Anto Flood found Glenn Cronin on the edge of the box and his downward volley came off the turf and spun past the scrambling Richard Brush.
The goal will have been greeted as wildly in Sligo as it was in the corner of the main stand that housed the travelling fans.
Rovers can still win the league if they win all their remaining matches, but their wiggle-room has been reduced significantly, given the Bit O'Red's better goal difference. From then on, it was white knuckle stuff, but Bohs held out on a frustrating night for Rovers.
Ciaran Kilduff and Gary O'Neill both had good chances to add to Dan Murray's first-half headed opener, but neither could find a way past Barry Murphy.
After a tense opening, the Hoops' opener came after a spell of sustained pressure as the champions pinned their rivals back into their own half. Murphy had saved from Billy Dennehy, and Twigg had fired into the side netting, but it was a Dennehy cross that did the damage, with the unmarked Murray meeting it fully and giving Murphy no chance.
Bohs thought they had equalised in an agonising minute before the break, but Brennan's sweet left-footed free came back off the post and Downes, just booked for a challenge on Jim Paterson, went down in the box under pressure from the Scot and got a yellow card.
Even a frustrated O'Neill disagreed with the call and was unhappy with his side's reaction.
"I'm disappointed, we stopped playing when the game went to 10 men," O'Neill said. "We were well on top, scored and then the sending off which 'wasn't' happened. It was a ridiculous sending-off.
"We spoke at half-time about how to approach the second half, but we lost a goal in their only attack.
"It was a very poorly officiated game from start to finish."
His frustration stemmed from a perceived lack of injury-time -- there were four minutes despite a lengthy stoppage for treatment for Murphy -- and a decision to give a free out when Liam Burns seemed to push the home side's Chris Turner in the box as Kilduff lined up a shot.
Still, O'Neill acknowledged that his team lacked the precision to break Bohs down and now face a difficult four- game run-in to maintain their charge.
"There is no margin for error, we have to win the four games and if we do that, we'll win the league. We'll see what we're made of," he said.
SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Brush; Sullivan, Sives, Murray, Paterson; Dennehy, Finn, Rice (Turner 67), McCabe; O'Neill (Ricketts 78), Twigg (Kilduff h-t).
BOHEMIANS -- Murphy; O'Brien, Burns, Price, Cahill; Flood, Cronin, Brennan (Hurley h-t), Bayly (Traynor 56), Forrester (Fagan 87); Downes.
REF -- D Tomney (Dublin).