Fans vent at Rovers boss as Hoban sends Dundalk top
Shamrock Rovers 0 Dundalk 1
BOTH managers became attuned to the sound of boos aimed their way at Tallaght a long time ago but, unlike his predecessor, Trevor Croly couldn't complain at the derision meted out by the Shamrock Rovers supporters yesterday.
This defeat to joint-leaders Dundalk, leaving the Hoops six points off the top, doesn't descend Croly into the danger zone Stephen Kenny inhabited before his sacking in September 2012 but certainly raises further questions about the manager's ability to bring Rovers to the level the board and fans expect.
Pat Hoban's 66th-minute close-range finish settled this meeting in favour of the Louthmen, yet the decision-making of the managers shortly before that breakthrough said much of their respective outlooks.
Kenny, aware of the home crowd's uneasiness contributing to Rovers' sloppiness, introduced new signing Donal McDermott as a substitute approaching the hour.
A talented winger of renown from his days as a Manchester City apprentice, the Ashbourne man had lost his way in recent seasons at Bournemouth before the Dundalk boss offered a lifeline at Oriel.
Croly's move from the bench four minutes later was to withdraw their playmaker, Gary McCabe – much to the annoyance of the player and fans alike. Dundalk soon found more space down the channels and carved Rovers open for the winner.
Dane Massey's interception just inside the Hoops half led to gaps emerging and, following a neat exchange between Kurtis Byrne and Darren Meenan on the right, the latter's low cross to the far post allowed Hoban to ghost in unmarked to tap home.
It was Hoban's first league start for five weeks due to injury and probably the easiest of his 10 goals accumulated this term.
Indeed, the visitors should have made this deserved victory more comfortable, as their lynchpin Richie Towell was denied from point-blank range by Rovers goalkeeper Barry Murphy nine minutes later.
Though this top-of-the-table clash was far from vintage fare, at least the Lilywhites had the excuse of playing just three days after their Europa League exertions. For a Rovers side with no such distractions and laden with pre-season expectation, the paucity of chances they created was alarming.
"I felt we were worthy winners in the end," said Kenny afterwards, content at his side going level on points again at the summit with Cork City.
"The match was a bit helter-skelter in the first half and lacked any discernable pattern but I still didn't feel that there was any threat to our goal bar from a set play.
"To come away from Shamrock Rovers on a Sunday afternoon with all three points after playing on Thursday is a very important victory for us."
Croly, meanwhile, brushed off the booing that dominated the Tallaght air at full-time, insistent this was a blip.
"We're trying to do a job here," said the man under pressure to recover from last season's underwhelming debut campaign in charge.
"We're in all the cups, six points off top with 14 games to go. So there are a lot of points to pick up. We've got to be realistic and today was as poor as we've played. But it can happen because the players are humans."
Home fans expecting progression from last week's defeat of champions St Patrick's Athletic were disappointed. Towell's drive from an acute angle saved by the legs of Murphy five minutes before the interval was the only chance either team mustered in the first half.
Not even the concession of Hoban's goal provoked a late charge by Rovers. Such was their desperation that Jason McGuinness converted to a striker for the closing stages – albeit with scant effectiveness.
Shamrock Rovers - Murphy, Madden, McGuinness, Kenna, D O'Connor, Finn, R Brennan (Bayly 79), Robinson, McCabe (O'Connor 63), Zayed, Kelly (Kilduff 71).
Dundalk - Cherrie, Gannon, Boyle, Gartland, Massey, Shields, Towell, Horgan (McDermott 59), Meenan (Mountney 90), Hoban, Byrne (Higgins 83).
Ref - P McLaughlin (Monaghan)